“You’re Going to Be A Better Lawyer”

Tony Joe

Tony Joe

As an associate at a Big Law firm in 2019, Tony Joe was thrilled to join a pro bono case team working on the exoneration of a client wrongfully convicted for murder.  It was akin to the criminal justice work he’d done as a law student – interning at the Equal Justice Initiative’s Capital Defense Clinic in Montgomery, AL – where he witnessed the effects of systemic racism and inequality on both individuals and society. These were issues he took seriously as a young Black man growing up in northern New Jersey.

Tony knew that working on this high-stakes case would be meaningful but had no idea that it would also change the course of his career – because it served as his introduction to Neufeld Scheck Brustin Hoffmann & Freudenberger, LLP. After the client was exonerated, his firm brought in NSBHF as co-counsel on the civil wrongful conviction case, based on its sterling track record of winning record settlements.

“These cases have unique legal trap doors you can fall through,” says Tony.  The attorneys at NSBHF, he found, knew where all the trap doors were located. What’s more, NSBHF provided substantive experience to lawyers at every level of seniority. Recalls Tony: “The lawyering with NSBHF provided junior lawyers an opportunity to do high level federal civil federal litigation. I had a voice in meetings, made an impact on case teams, and was included in court conferences.” In other words, he was taking on tasks most Big Law associates wait years to be assigned.

Over the course of the case, NSBHF partner Emma Freudenberger became a mentor to Tony. Whether appearing before a judge, talking case strategy with a senior partner or reviewing legal briefs with the team, “The way she handled herself was impressive,” he recalls.  “So confident but also able to collaborate with lawyers from any background.”

Says Emma: “I was so impressed by Tony right off the bat. His research skills and credentials were obviously top-notch, but what struck me from our first deposition prep meeting was that he already thought like a much more experienced litigator—what are the problems here, how are we going to solve them, what’s the crispest, most compelling way to tell this story. I knew that if we were lucky to have him join us it would be a fantastic fit.”

During the course of the civil pro bono case – which resulted in a $12 million settlement for the client in 2022 – Emma suggested to Tony that he apply for the Cochran fellowship.  He did so and joined the firm as a Fellow in 2021 following his District Court clerkship. Over the course of the Fellowship, his experience has grown tenfold. He’s examined a fact witness at a bench trial, taken depositions, led court conference calls on discovery disputes, and argued a discovery motion in court in front of judges in his home district – a moment he recalls with particular pride.

The Cochran Fellowship, as he sees it, is almost like a teaching hospital: “‘See one, do one, teach one.’ You’ll get to do stuff, and you’ll also have something to pass on to others – paralegals, interns you supervise.” Tony found he thrived in the intense but collaborative atmosphere, where the work never stopped and the clients always came first. “The way NSBHF lawyers litigate these cases, their brilliance and humanity shine through,” he says.

An important element of the work, Tony notes, is helping clients create a life for themselves after years of significant suffering and trauma. The firm does so not only through legal advocacy but also via a holistic team approach that includes social workers to help clients manage life transitions as their cases progress. “It feels great to help clients close a chapter and move forward positively.”

In January 2024, Tony will be leaving the firm for a Third Circuit Clerkship, after which he’ll be returning to NSBHF as an Associate.

“As a young lawyer, it’s sometimes hard to know where you should invest the early years of your career,” Tony reflects. “Anyone who comes here should be confident that people will honor your trust and take seriously their obligation to teach you and guide you and make you a better lawyer.”

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