As frequent readers of this blog are no doubt aware, the ten-volume practice treatise entitled Commercial Litigation in New York State Courts and edited by distinguished commercial practitioner Robert L. Haig (the “Haig Treatise”) – now in its 5th edition – is an invaluable guide for litigators navigating the inner workings of the New York State Court system. With contributions by over 250 authors, the Haig Treatise is a must-have in every commercial litigator’s library, as it is chock-full with insights, strategies, and tactics essential to litigators and corporate in-house counsel alike. With over 150 chapters, the Haig Treatise is a one-stop destination providing guidance on virtually every topic, procedural or substantive, that may arise in your commercial-litigation practice.
It’s no surprise that the Haig Treatise devotes an entire chapter to the topic of practicing before New York’s Commercial Division. After all, Mr. Haig chairs the Commercial Division Advisory Council, whose primary purpose is to advise the Chief Judge of the State of New York on all matters related to the Commercial Division, and is one of the leading advocates for the Commercial Division as being among the premier business courts in the country – nay, the world.
Chapter 39 of the Haig Treatise, entitled “Practice Before the Commercial Division,” is of particular interest to us here at New York Commercial Division Practice for obvious reasons. Authored by the Hon. Brian M. Cogan of the EDNY and co-managing partner Alan M. Klinger of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP, the chapter provides an all-fours summary for those who may be less familiar with practicing in the Commercial Division – including but not limited to issues related to eligibility for assignment, unique discovery rules, motion practice, ADR requirements, and confidentiality – much of which has served as blog fodder for us over the years.
But the Haig Treatise’s chapter on the Commercial Division also offers some unique practice insights worth expanding on here. For example, the chapter spends a fair amount of time on the subject of forum shopping – particularly from the perspective of weighing the advantages and disadvantages of litigating in the Commercial Division as opposed to federal court, which for many years enjoyed preferential status among commercial litigators in the New York metro area.
It’s common knowledge, of course, that plaintiffs’ counsel angle to commence suit in the forum expected to be most favorable to their clients. Likewise, defendants’ counsel often take the opportunity to remove or transfer a case to a forum more favorable to their own clients. On this, the authors of the ComDiv chapter suggest that the Commercial Division has “leveled the playing field” in the forum-selection game, and they provide invaluable strategic considerations for litigators when making this choice.
To be sure, since its inception in the mid-1990s, the Commercial Division has become a more attractive setting for business litigation in New York. In fact, it has for many become the preferred forum for litigating complex business disputes. The ComDiv chapter authors explain that one of the primary reasons for this is because of the expertise and sophistication of the ComDiv judges on all matters commercial. As the preamble to the ComDiv Rules suggests, “the [Commercial] Division’s judges are chosen for their extensive experience in resolving sophisticated commercial disputes. Unlike jurists in other civil parts in New York’s court system, Commercial Division justices devote themselves almost exclusively to these complex commercial matters.” This constitutes a legitimate counterpoint to a common argument in favor of litigating commercial disputes in federal court due to the business-law expertise of many of its judges, who often are appointed to the bench after having spent years litigating complex commercial matters at major law firms.
Another consideration weighing in favor of choosing to litigate before the Commercial Division as opposed to federal court is the comfort of knowing that, once commenced or transferred, your case will be heard by one of a select number of judges. For example, for those looking to litigate in Manhattan, there are eight Commercial Division judges to whom your case could be assigned versus the approximately 50 SDNY district and magistrate judges sitting on Pearl Street or Foley Square. Likewise, if you’re looking to litigate in or around Westchester County, you can be certain that your case will be assigned to one or the other of Commercial Division Justices Linda Jamieson or Gretchen Walsh versus the approximately 10 SDNY district and magistrate judges sitting on Quarropas Street in White Plains.
By the way, if you find yourself persuaded by the ComDiv chapter authors on this topic, Appendix C of the ComDiv Rules makes available sample forum-selection clauses, the express purpose of which “is to offer contracting parties streamlined, convenient tools in expressing their consent to confer jurisdiction on the Commercial Division.”
The authors of the ComDiv chapter also make a point of extolling the technological virtues of practicing before the Commercial Division – including, for example, the introduction of the next-gen “Courtroom for the New Millennium” and other innovative developments toward remote or virtual court participation.
In 2004, long before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Supreme Court in New York County initiated a pilot program entitled “CourtCall,” which permitted attorneys to participate in certain court conferences telephonically. Despite its obvious benefits – e.g., efficiency, expediency, cost-savings, etc. – the program didn’t gain much traction in the non-commercial parts. The same can’t be said for the Commercial Division however. As noted by the ComDiv chapter’s authors, “one legacy of the program [wa]s that the Commercial Division appear[ed] to have a greater degree of receptivity to the use of teleconferencing than in the non-commercial parts.”
Such appearances no doubt have become realities over the last couple of years, as the Commercial Division has been compelled by the circumstances presented by COVID to make a massive pivot toward remote or virtual participation as a “new norm” for commercial litigation in New York – including, for example, new or amended rules on remote depositions, remote appearances, and virtual evidentiary hearings.
As with many chapters in the Haig Treatise, the ComDiv chapter closes with some helpful practice aids, checklists, and forms – in this case specifically geared toward practicing in the Commercial Division – including ComDiv assignment and preliminary-conference forms, confidentiality stipulations, and much more.
In sum, chapter 39 of the Haig Treatise on practicing before the Commercial Division – as with the Treatise as a whole – is a well-organized, straightforward, and practical tool that all New York commercial litigators should have on their shelves.