Stephen J. Kastenberg is a litigation partner in Ballard Spahr's Philadelphia office. He focuses on complex business litigation with an emphasis on antitrust and corporate governance litigation, and represents private and public companies in a wide variety of business disputes.

Kastenberg is regularly called upon to defend large public and private companies in litigation with substantial potential impact on business operations. For example, he currently represents life sciences and technology companies, as well as a private real estate hedge fund and international shipping company, against claims involving antitrust, securities, RICO, intellectual property and Lanham Act violations in venues around the country.

Kastenberg is a member of Ballard Spahr's elected board and its pro bono committee. He is president of the Board of the New Jersey Scholars Program, which operates a free liberal arts summer enrichment program for outstanding high school seniors from New Jersey. He is a trustee of the national Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights. He is a graduate of Princeton University (A.B., cum laude, 1988) and Harvard University (J.D., cum laude, 1992).

Q: How did you become a rainmaker?

A: I have attracted and retained clients by being a good lawyer, and by being a good friend and interested in people. Being a good lawyer doesn’t just mean smart. That’s just the start. It means being willing to give advice, having a sense of perspective on what is important to the client in a given situation, and having a sense of strategy. There are a lot of lawyers who are book smart but don’t translate that into good sense or good strategy or a willingness to have an opinion. But clients also like to work with someone with whom they have a connection and who is genuine. Finally, we are a service business. I never understand when I see lawyers who don’t get that. One time, my wife called me out of the surf at the Jersey Shore — the CEO of a client was on my cell phone, and I then called an SEC official from the beach to clear something up for him. Clients like to know you are there for them. But, most of all, I started with good mentors who showed me how to do those things, and who helped me seem smarter and more experienced than I was.

Q: How do you stay a rainmaker?

A: I have good partners, great, service and think. You can’t succeed without true partners who you like working with, who help you deliver results to clients and expand the types of work you can do. It has to be a mutually trusting, beneficial and enjoyable exercise. You also need to re-prove yourself to your clients. Don’t trade on your relationships; have them realize that their trust is important.

You also need to think. One time, an existing client called my cell around 2 p.m. while I was on a train back to Philly from N.Y. They owned shares in a public company that had just announced it was undertaking and had completed that day a complicated stock transaction that would benefit the majority shareholder to the detriment of others. I called my partners in our Baltimore office (where the company was headquartered), who jumped right in. We put together a complaint and emergency injunction on a theory that the transaction could be enjoined as long the market had not closed and settled for the day. I stayed on the train to Baltimore, and we were in court before the end of the day. The judge wouldn’t unwind the transaction because the company convinced him it was already completed, but excoriated the company on the record for their conduct. The transcript was worth more than the injunction in winning the proxy contest for the board that followed. Here was teamwork, responsiveness and a creative good result. That is what keeps clients loyal.

Q: What advice would you give to an aspiring rainmaker?

A: Four things. First, be yourself. There are many paths to attracting or retaining clients, and you need to find the one(s) that fit you. But you do need to do something. In some way or another, you need to get to know people, to single yourself out. You can volunteer, speak, write, or try to help your partners expand existing business, but do something. Second, you need to pay attention to the craft of what you do. Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours to become good at anything, e.g. sports, music. No reason that isn’t true for lawyering as well. It’s hard work. Third, be responsive. If you think the client is unreasonable, so what. Fourth, if you can, find a mentor. It’s hard to reinvent the wheel so learn from someone good. I, like many others, was fortunate enough to learn from the best, Arthur Makadon, the finest, most strategic lawyer of his era in Philadelphia, and I hope I soaked up some of what he taught. He passed away the week I wrote this, and he was still teaching until the last moment.

Q: Tell us a tale of landing a big client.

A: I had a small outside counsel engagement for a large company. The general counsel called with a question, and then asked me about a motion to dismiss in a tangentially related, bet-the-company case they had in a court in a different jurisdiction. I wasn’t involved in the other case, but knew about it and had read the briefs. The motion was set to be argued the next day.

When asked, I told the GC he was going to lose the motion. After he chewed my ear off, he asked why. And when I told him, he yelled some more about how wrong I was. He had a prominent New York firm handling the case, and the most prominent local firm involved as well. Both were very capable and they had assured the GC the case would be dismissed, which he had told his CEO and board. But when the judge denied the motion in a lengthy oral opinion delivered immediately after the two hours of argument, the general counsel asked me to join a debriefing conference call. This time he yelled at the other lawyers, and asked why they didn’t know the motion would lose when I did. He then put me on the team and soon made me the lead lawyer for this very intensive, prolonged suit, and a greatly expanded and close relationship resulted. By the end of the case, I was also good friends with the other two lawyers, who were very good, and who have since referred significant matters to me.

There’s one other thing I’d mention, which is doing people favors. I always appreciate when people go out of their way for me, and am happy to go out of my way to help others. While this is usually for people I know, once I got a call from a financial firm for which I and the firm had never worked. They needed an internal investigation and report to the board. They called me out of the blue. Why? Because (as they told me) I had three years before given the CEO advice on a personal matter as a favor to a mutual friend. I couldn’t remember having done so, but appreciated the engagement.

Related Practice

Litigation