As a litigator, Emily Griffen is accustomed to speaking out in court or in legal meetings on behalf of her clients. But, like most people and especially women, speaking out about her career didn’t come quite as easily.
That is why Griffen, a litigation Counsel in global law firm Shearman & Sterling’s Bay Area offices, advises other women to have confidence in their skills and knowledge.
“Be vocal about your career interests and find people who will give you the opportunity to share your opinion,” she says. “This is how you will learn and grow.”
Career in Litigation
To date, that approach has taken her far, even though she didn’t really have a definitive career plan set in stone after college. According to Griffen, she was drawn to law school and especially litigation because of the complexity of the subject matter and the enjoyment she found in grappling with challenging legal concepts. She honed her strengths, identified her interests and aligned her passion for legal research, analysis and brief writing with her ultimate professional goal: to join a global law firm with a strong litigation group.
When Griffen started at Shearman & Sterling’s San Francisco office, she was involved in a number of securities class action and shareholder derivative cases, but as the scope of the litigation group has expanded, so have Griffen’s role and responsibilities. In recent years, her work has grown to include white collar crime and consumer class action suits, as well as securities and corporate governance litigation, for major clients like LG Electronics Inc. and Toyota Motor Corporation – and that variety is something Griffen is excited about. She works regularly with Shearman & Sterling’s litigation partners in the Bay Area – Patrick Robbins, Jeffrey Facter and Stephen Hibbard – as well as with the firm’s other litigation partners and senior lawyers around the world. Griffen also spent a one-year rotation in Shearman’s international arbitration group in the firm’s Paris office, and continues to work with that group from time to time as well.
In Griffen’s field, it is somewhat rare for a case to go to trial – most disputes are settled well before a jury is empaneled. Yet in only her fourth year as a lawyer, Griffen found herself immersed in a three-week-long jury trial in San Jose in a securities-related employment dispute. “This was an incredible and unique experience for me so early in my career,” said Griffen, who argued complicated pre-trial motions in front of the judge and questioned witnesses at trial. “We won the case, obtaining a complete defense verdict, and I feel so fortunate to have had such a rewarding experience, which is rare for a securities litigator.”
More recently, Griffen found herself on the eve of trial again when she was part of the defense team representing the former CFO of a Silicon Valley software company in a civil enforcement action by the Securities and Exchange Commission. “We obtained a favorable settlement for our client at the last minute after years of litigation, but we had to prepare our case as if we were going to trial. It was a very exciting case to be involved in,” said Griffen. As part of the settlement avoiding trial, the SEC agreed to drop all of its fraud claims against Griffen’s client.
Rewarding Pro Bono Work
Although Griffen is passionate about her work as a litigator, one of her most rewarding experiences as a lawyer was participating in Shearman & Sterling’s ongoing pro bono project providing legal assistance to the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Tanzania. “I spent a month in Africa assisting in the prosecution of genocide crimes,” Griffen explained, “and it was both one of the most difficult and most gratifying experiences of my career so far.”
Since Shearman & Sterling became involved with the project nearly 15 years ago, the firm has become one of ICTR’s most critical outside resources and has always had at least one lawyer in Tanzania assisting with these cases. Griffen said, “This is such an important initiative and having the opportunity to participate in a project like this is one of the benefits of working for a world-class law firm like Shearman & Sterling.”
The Importance of Values and Company Culture
Another benefit of working at Shearman & Sterling, she says, is seeing first-hand the firm’s LGBT support. The firm’s leadership in adopting policies that benefit everyone equally is also important to her. For example, she took advantage of the firm’s parental leave program after the birth of her son. “The timing of starting a family tends to coincide with your career advancement,” said Griffen, “but if you are in the right environment this should not create a hurdle that you have to overcome.”
Griffen is also grateful to work among such supportive colleagues. She adds that, as an out lesbian, she has never faced adversity coming out or being out at work, and instead has always found her colleagues to be extremely accepting and welcoming to her and her family. She is actively involved in Sterling Pride, a firm-sponsored inclusion network that sponsors initiatives for the LGBT community and focuses on LGBT recruitment and retention efforts.
According to Griffen, finding a firm that respected and reflected her personal values was very important, and she urges others to look hard for that kind of firm culture. One of the things she values is the ability to work remotely. “I live outside the city and work primarily from my home office,” noted Griffen, who is proud of the fact that she can balance a successful career as an active litigator, as well as her home and family life.
Outside the Office
Outside the office, Griffen is an active supporter of The National Center for Lesbian Rights. “This is an organization that is near and dear to my heart,” she said, adding that Shearman & Sterling sponsors the organization’s annual gala each year.
In her spare time, Griffen enjoys spending time with her wife and five-year-old son gardening and playing backyard baseball and soccer in their new home that they designed and built in the redwoods in Northern California.
By Michelle Hendelman