By Christina M. Nguyen | Managing Editor
Christina M. Nguyen met with Arnold & Porter Partner and Head of the firm’s New York office, Stewart Aaron, on a snowy afternoon. Christina was able to gain a perspective into Mr. Aaron’s work in the commercial litigation and his involvement in the Commercial Division. Additionally, Mr. Aaron discussed his involvement in the broader legal community.
CN: How did you start working in commercial litigation?
SA: I graduated law school in 1983. After graduation, I worked at a small litigation boutique firm, Bond and Camhi, and a majority of its practice was commercial litigation, so that is what I did.
CN: Did you have an interest in commercial litigation prior to working with Bond and Camhi?
SA: I knew I wanted to be a litigator, but I did not give much thought as to what type of litigation I wanted to be involved in. Bond and Camhi was involved with commercial litigation, which is what I obviously ended up doing.
CN: What inspired you to be a big advocate on commercial litigation?
SA: Over the years, I became fairly active in bar association activities. At the New York City Bar Association, I was chair of the Litigation Committee for 3 years and a member of the Litigation Committee for 2-3 years prior to that. At the New York County Lawyers’ Association, I served as President and also served on a number of committees and task forces where commercial litigation was one of the matters that were under consideration. What really launched me into it most recently was Chief Judge Lippman forming the Commercial Division Advisory Council and my service on that Council, including my role as a co-chair of the Council’s subcommittee on procedural rules for the efficient administration of justice.
CN: What is the role of the Commercial Division Advisory Council?
SA: Chief Judge Kaye had formed a body called the Task Force on Commercial Litigation in the 21st Century; it was an esteemed group of lawyers and judges put together to take a look at commercial litigation in the state of New York. The Task Force had come up with a report that included a number of recommendations on how to improve commercial litigation in New York. One of the recommendations was for the Chief Judge to create the Commercial Division Advisory Council. The role of the Council is to implement the recommendations of the 21st Century Report, which included rules regarding such things as interrogatories, the length of depositions, and other ways to make commercial litigation in New York more efficient. The goal is to make New York courts more attractive to litigants than alternative dispute forums or courts in other states for example, Delaware. New York is a major commercial center and we ought to attract and retain litigation in our own courts.
CN: What is your role in the Commercial Division Advisory Council?
SA: I am one of the members at the body at large and a co-chair of the sub-committee on procedural rules for the efficient administration of justice.
CN: Did you have a role in drafting the rule on requiring lawyers to move quickly if they want their case moved into the state’s Commercial Division, a move that made the Commercial Division closer to the federal system in terms of ensuring earlier judicial intervention in commercial cases?
SA: Yes, my subcommittee had a role in drafting a number of changes or additions to the Commercial Division rules and that was one of them. In some cases, I was personally involved as a draftsperson and with respect to other rules there were other members of the subcommittee that drafted them. My subcommittee meets and puts together drafts of reports concerning proposed rule changes, deliberates about them, and once we have consensus within the subcommittee, it is put in front of the full Council for a vote. The report and accompanying rule change then is recommended to the Office of Court Administration and put on for public comment. If approved then the proposed rule changes is incorporated into and made part of the Commercial Division rules.
CN: Out of the rules you’ve personally worked on, have they been enacted as part of the Commercial Division rules?
SA: Yes, there are probably 6 or 7 different ones that have been enacted.
CN: What is your experience with Commercial Division practice?
SA: I had a number of cases pending in the court over the course of its existence. I presently have 5 or 6 pending cases in the Commercial Division of different types. I tend to be on the defense side in these cases. I had one plaintiff’s case in the last couple of years.
CN: In your opinion, how is the Commercial Division different from other courts you have appeared in?
SA: I have appeared in the Commercial Division in New York County. There are many similarities between the New York County Commercial Division and the United States District for the Southern District Court of New York. There are differences between the Commercial Division and some of the non-commercial parts in New York state court. The Commercial Division judges tend to have greater expertise in commercial-related matters.
CN: You wrote a chapter called Ethical Issues in Commercial Cases in a treatise entitled Commercial Litigation in New York State Courts. Were you approached by the editor of the book or other authors to write the chapter, and why the topic of ethical issues of commercial litigation?
SA: Back in the 1980’s or 1990’s, Robert Haig, who was and is the editor of the treatise and currently is chair of the Commercial Division Advisory Council, came to a senior partner with whom I was working named Richard Bond and said he was looking for an author for a chapter on ethical issues in commercial cases. Richard Bond knew a lot about ethics and asked me at the time when I was a senior associate or junior partner to assist in drafting the chapter. Unfortunately, Richard passed away and I became the author of the chapter and have been updating it every year since. I cannot say at the time I began that I had any particular expertise in ethical issues. Now, I keep track of all relevant case law developments, as well as any statutes or changes to the New York ethic rules. We try to focus on ethical issues that most often arise in commercial cases.
CN: Have you written chapters in other books or thought about writing your own book?
SA: Over the course of time, I have written on the topic of New York securities law for lay people. It was a layperson’s guide to securities law. I also have written a number of client advisories over the years. For example, I wrote on the extraterritorial scope of the U.S. securities law.
CN: How else have you been involved in the Commercial Division?
SA: Sitting on the Council and appearing in court, those are probably my two exposures to it.
CN: How did you get involved in the New York County Lawyers’ Association (NYCLA)?
SA: Richard Bond was the senior partner at the small firm where I started my legal career, Bond and Camhi, and within a year of joining that firm, it was acquired to become the litigation department of the new New York office of a Minneapolis based firm called Dorsey & Whitney. Richard took 6 lawyers and me over to Dorsey & Whitney. One of Richard’s significant interests was participation in bar associations. Richard got me involved in the New York County Lawyers’ Association (NYCLA) and its Committee on Federal Courts. NYCLA was the bar association where I later became President.
CN: What made you decide to run for President of NYCLA?
SA: I had been on the NYCLA Board of Directors for a number of years, as well as on task forces and committees. My first officer position was as secretary and the Nominating Committee was looking for people who were interested in running for President. I spoke with the then-president and the then-president-elect about what the job entailed. It seemed like something that would be interesting to do and an opportunity to use the bully pulpit –to get out and talk about things.
CN: What was rewarding about being the President of NYCLA?
SA: It provided an opportunity to go out and meet people. NYCLA has a very diverse membership, not only in terms of gender and race, but also as to the types of lawyers who are its members. Unique from the City Bar, a very large percentage of NYCLA’s members are solo practitioners and in small firms. Having an opportunity to share views with people who have a different perspective than many big firm lawyers is rewarding. In addition, as a bar association president, I had many opportunities to be out speaking on various topics. Pro bono work was one topic about which I spoke frequently. Another topic to which I devoted substantive attention was the defense of the judiciary from unfounded media attacks. We had a rapid response group that would spring into action, and send a letter to the editor, publish on NYCLA’s website and/or use social media, to call the public’s attention to misleading media stories.
CN: Are you still involved in NYCLA and, if so, in what capacity?
SA: As a past president, I may serve on the Board of Directors for life. I attend events and I also serve on the Executive Committee and chair the Library Committee.
CN: What is the Library Committee?
SA: A very large portion of the NYCLA building consists of the library and the mission of the Library Committee has changed over time. At one time, before we had computers and before we had Westlaw, Lexis, and Google Scholar, lawyers spent an enormous amount of time in the NYCLA Library because that is where they wrote their briefs. Back then, the function of the Library Committee was to make sure all the holdings were current, to make sure the library was properly staffed with reference librarians, and things of that kind. Now it has morphed into providing research resources to our members who need them, mostly through computer databases.
CN: Do you think libraries will be obsolete soon because we can find practically everything on the Internet?
SA: In law firms, libraries are to a large extent defunct. At bar associations, there still are libraries, but now they are mostly places where attorneys can go to use computers.
CN: As an attorney, how did you get involved in plays and musicals?
SA: When I was 50-I am 57 now-I was chairing the Litigation Committee at the City Bar, and one of the members of the Litigation Committee, Martha (Marti) Cohen Stine, was Chair of the Entertainment Committee. The Entertainment Committee at the City Bar is not the Entertainment Law Committee; it is the Entertainment Committee because the members of the committee are the entertainment. Marti said the committee was looking for male singers for the chorus. I never really sang before but I thought I could probably carry a tune. So, I showed up and was in the chorus and then was asked to take a role. I played the role of (Chief Judge) Jonathan Lippman’s father, who was a fish salesman. Recently, I played the role of my colleague at Arnold & Porter, Peter Zimroth, who was Corporation Counsel and currently is the NYPD monitor. Most of my performances can be found on YouTube.
CN: Did your colleague, Peter, come out to watch you play him?
SA: He did as did his Oscar-winning wife, Estelle Parsons. They were kind enough to come with us to The Algonquin after the performance.
Thank you Mr. Aaron for taking the time out of your busy day to share your insights on commercial litigation and the Commercial Division. It was great to hear of all your experiences as part of your successful career in commercial litigation and bar associations.