Aaron Danzig of Arnall Golden Gregory: “Good judgment and decisiveness”

Good judgment and decisiveness — Defending white collar cases and government investigations don’t often lend themselves to easy answers. There are difficult judgment calls to make and advice to give. Decisions are ultimately up to the client, but you need to provide him or her with reasoned and well-thought-out recommendations. The legal field is known to be […]

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Good judgment and decisiveness — Defending white collar cases and government investigations don’t often lend themselves to easy answers. There are difficult judgment calls to make and advice to give. Decisions are ultimately up to the client, but you need to provide him or her with reasoned and well-thought-out recommendations.

The legal field is known to be extremely competitive. Lawyers are often smart, ambitious, and highly educated. That being said, what does it take to stand out and become a “Top Lawyer” in your specific field of law? In this interview series called “5 Things You Need To Become A Top Lawyer In Your Specific Field of Law”, we are talking to top lawyers who share what it takes to excel and stand out in your industry.

As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Aaron Danzig.

Aaron Danzig is a partner at Arnall Golden Gregory LLP, a full-service law firm with offices in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. A former federal prosecutor, Aaron co-chairs the firm’s Government Investigations practice group. Aaron focuses his practice on white-collar criminal defense, False Claims Act defense, and internal corporate investigations. Prior to becoming a lawyer, Aaron was a high school history teacher and wrestling coach.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit more. What is the “backstory” that brought you to this particular career path in Law? Did you want to be an attorney “when you grew up”?

Growing up, I always wanted to be a trial lawyer. Perhaps that stemmed from watching Perry Mason re-runs or that my father, who is a doctor, had deep admiration for Clarence Darrow and trial lawyers. At the same time, I have always been committed to public service and to giving back, so before I went to law school, I was a public school teacher in New Orleans, where I also coached a high school wrestling team to two state championships. Whether as a trial lawyer, a public school teacher or while serving on the Boards of non-profits, I feel very fortunate to have spent my life and career seeking to make a difference in the community and pursuing my career as a trial lawyer.

Can you tell us a bit about the nature of your practice and what you focus on?

I practice broadly in the area of government investigations and white-collar criminal defense. About half of my time is spent defending healthcare providers and government contractors in False Claims Act cases. The rest of my practice is a mix of white-collar criminal defense — such as fraud and insider trading cases — SEC investigations, and internal corporate investigations. Basically, I get called when the FBI shows up at a client’s door.

You are a successful attorney. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? What unique qualities do you have that others may not? Can you please share a story or example for each?

I don’t know that they are particularly unique but hard work, dedication to detail and an ability to think creatively are three traits that have helped in my success as an attorney. I was a college wrestler, which requires hard work and dedication (and oftentimes an ability to withstand pain and suffering). That background has certainly helped. My cases can be very complicated, so it’s imperative that I stay on top of every detail of every matter. In any case, I also spend significant time trying to place myself in the shoes of the other side which can lead to valuable insights and creative tactics and strategies.

Do you think you have had luck in your success? Can you explain what you mean?

There are lots of smart, capable and hard-working attorneys out there. But luck definitely plays a part. I was lucky to first chair a jury trial as a third-year associate because a client took a principled stand and refused to settle a case. I was lucky to have been hired as an Assistant U.S. Attorney, which led to five incredible years as a prosecutor seeking justice and getting unparalleled trial experience.

Do you think where you went to school has any bearing on your success? How important is it for a lawyer to go to a top-tier school?

I strongly believe that what you make of your time in law school is far more important than where you went to school. Engaging with classmates, participating in moot court or law journals, and making the most of the resources and opportunities available has more bearing on future success than the name of the school. Graduating from a top-tier school may help in obtaining that first job, but no one has asked me (or cared) where I went to law school for 20 years.

Based on the lessons you have learned from your experience, if you could go back in time and speak to your twenty-year-old self, what would you say? Would you do anything differently?

It’s a small world, you never know who you will meet that could impact your future career. It’s also a very interconnected world; your friend of a friend of a friend may end up being a client. So, I would tell my younger self not to be shy but put yourself out there and, with a nod to Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point, be a connector.

This is not easy work. What is your primary motivation and drive behind the work that you do?

The work is challenging particularly when you have clients whose liberty is at stake. Knowing that I may be the only person to protect my client from going to prison or getting their professional license revoked is a solemn responsibility and motivates me every day to do the very best I can. And, receiving thank you notes from clients, such as “I am so thankful that I will be able to return to my career unblemished,” provides continued motivation and invigorates me to do the job I love.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Given the nature of my work, much of what I do is confidential involving companies under investigation or individuals facing the prospect of being charged with a crime. Broadly speaking, I am currently representing a large public company in a False Claims Act investigation and working hard to convince the government not to charge an individual client with FDA-related crimes.

Where do you go from here? Where do you aim to be in the next chapter of your career?

I have had the privilege of both serving the community as a federal prosecutor and working to protect my clients’ constitutional rights in the face of government investigations and prosecutions. I love what I do and foresee doing it for many more years.

Without sharing anything confidential, can you please share your most successful “war story”? Can you share the funniest?

It is not much of a war story, but I represented a doctor under criminal investigation for a number of years. I met multiple times with the prosecutor and, ultimately, was able to convince him not to charge my client. Sharing the good news that evening with my client and his wife and hearing their cries of joy and relief was a moving and poignant moment I will never forget.

On a different note, my first cross examination in my first jury trial was an exhilarating and funny experience. The witness was an attorney who was testifying as an expert about the reasonableness of the plaintiff’s attorney’s fees. I represented the defendant company. We found out the week before trial that the witness attorney had left his former law firm and was renting space from the plaintiff’s attorney. I questioned the witness attorney about potential bias because he was basically testifying in favor of his new landlord. Incredibly, he denied working in the same office. I guess he figured we didn’t know he had moved. I then pulled out a giant poster-sized picture of the front door of the plaintiff’s attorney’s office which had placards for both attorneys and he had to admit to the jury that he was renting space from the plaintiff’s attorney. Needless to say, the jury did not find him to be credible.

Ok, fantastic. Let’s now shift to discussing some advice for aspiring lawyers. Do you work remotely? Onsite? Or Hybrid? What do you think will be the future of how law offices operate? What do you prefer? Can you please explain what you mean?

I have been going to the office most days since August 2020. That is in part because there are too many distractions for me at home — snacks in the kitchen and a puppy to play with — and because I am more comfortable and efficient at my office. That said, the pandemic has shown that you can work effectively as a lawyer remotely most of the time. There are drawbacks, though. In particular, you miss out on the organic, unscheduled interactions and discussions with colleagues. In my view, these interactions are essential to building a positive corporate culture and to developing young associates. They are also important for all lawyers as they often lead to breakthrough ideas in challenging cases. So, I think we will see more hybrid and remote options for law firms but there is still a benefit to in-office work.

How has the legal world changed since COVID? How do you think it might change in the near future? Can you explain what you mean?

Obviously, since COVID, there has been the dramatic increase in working remotely. This does not just include office time; it includes depositions, mediations and court hearings. Such remote work is here to stay, although I am hopeful we can get back to more in-person meetings, hearings and trials.

We often hear about the importance of networking and getting referrals. Is this still true today? Has the nature of networking changed or has its importance changed? Can you explain what you mean?

Absolutely. Building relationships is key to getting referrals and to providing value to clients, colleagues and referral sources. I do not believe the importance of networking has changed, although I will say it is always important for everyone to find the most authentic ways for them to build and nurture relationships. There is no doubt that the nature of networking has changed over the last year-and-a-half, as travel is limited and getting together in person is more difficult and occurs less often. In this way, I think it is important to find the best way to meaningfully maintain relationships in this hybrid world.

Based on your experience, how can attorneys effectively leverage social media to build their practice?

I’m not big on social media. I have a LinkedIn account and also send out periodic articles to a large email list so I’m not the best person to answer this. I know it works for many of my colleagues, but I’ve built and maintained my network through more “old school” activities such as attending client meetings, speaking at professional gatherings and contributing articles to news media and legal journals.

Excellent. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Become A Top Lawyer In Your Specific Field of Law?” Please share a story or an example for each.

Patience and understanding — In my work, I deal with people who are under enormous stress and often facing the potential loss of liberty. These can be successful people who have been over-achievers their entire lives and can’t understand how or why the government is investigating them.

Dogged determination — I think combat analogies are often overused but representing an individual that has been indicted or a company charged with False Claims Act violations is a battle and the lawyer needs to be prepared to do everything he or she can, within the confines of professional ethics, to defend his client.

Intellectual acumen and keeping updated on the law — This is really a baseline requirement.

Creative mind — I handle difficult cases that require looking for innovative, outside the box solutions. Also, a trial is like theatre, you are a storyteller and need to think creatively to capture and keep the jury’s attention.

Good judgment and decisiveness — Defending white collar cases and government investigations don’t often lend themselves to easy answers. There are difficult judgment calls to make and advice to give. Decisions are ultimately up to the client, but you need to provide him or her with reasoned and well-thought-out recommendations.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

Mary Barra, CEO of GM — She has been a groundbreaking, transformative leader in an industry that is traditionally male-dominated. Ms. Barra has displayed courage, sharp business acumen, and even political wisdom while leading one of the largest organizations in the world. It would be an education to hear her talk about what it took for her to achieve the success she has.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!

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