Success Stories: Positive Outcomes
Casey Greenfield v. The World by Robin Finn, NY TIMES
“The first step to engaging quietly and efficiently in a fight is to realize that you’re in one, and that you’re not fighting to be mean or petty, but to recognize your own power,” Ms. Greenfield said hoarsely, as always. Empowerment is a major theme in Ms. Greenfield’s personal and professional lives, which have neatly dovetailed since she emerged from her own heavyweight and highly public bout of custody litigation — she shares an out-of-wedlock child with the married legal journalist Jeffrey Toobin — to form the boutique firm Greenfield Labby.
February 17, 2012
Casey Greenfield v. the World
By ROBIN FINN, NY TIMES
CASEY GREENFIELD is sitting pretty in her NoHo law office beneath a 1970s poster advertising a heavyweight championship boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier at Madison Square Garden. As a freshly minted specialist in high-stakes family law, which tends to translate as bitterly expensive and occasionally scandalous divorce and custody litigation, she deems the vintage poster an inspiration.
“The first step to engaging quietly and efficiently in a fight is to realize that you’re in one, and that you’re not fighting to be mean or petty, but to recognize your own power,” Ms. Greenfield said hoarsely, as always.
Empowerment is a major theme in Ms. Greenfield’s personal and professional lives, which have neatly dovetailed since she emerged from her own heavyweight and highly public bout of custody litigation — she shares an out-of-wedlock child with the married legal journalist Jeffrey Toobin — to form the boutique firm Greenfield Labby. On Wednesday, it will celebrate its first birthday with a party at the Modern, the Danny Meyer restaurant at the Museum of Modern Art. Nearly 200 people, many in the boldface category, have received invitations. It will not be a typical law firm fete.
But then, Greenfield Labby is not a typical law firm.
The firm, which Ms. Greenfield formed with Scott Labby, 39, a Yale Law School classmate and a former boyfriend, has roughly two dozen well-heeled clients and employs five lawyers, in Manhattan and in Boston. It sees itself as an elite group of “country lawyers” for glittering urban professionals with lots to gain — or lose.
Unlike the traditional matrimonial law firm, it does not limit itself to divorce and custody litigation. Crisis management, strategic planning and contract resolution are among the specialties the firm claims. And the partners, with their connections to New York’s media, entertainment and Wall Street industries, are not afraid to use Ms. Greenfield’s life as a subtext and an asset. “We understand your problems,” the firm’s Web site proclaims. “We know that they exist in a matrix that includes your business, your personal life and your reputation.”
Ms. Greenfield’s first client hired her to settle a will and a custody arrangement. The second case was a divorce, familiar turf for this self-described “product of a modern splintered and re-glued family” — her father, the political pundit and television commentator Jeff Greenfield, is thrice-married, and after a privileged upbringing on the Upper West Side, Ms. Greenfield left for boarding school at Andover when her parents divorced. (Her mother, Carrie Carmichael, was Mr. Greenfield’s first wife.)
“Maybe it’s unfortunate that my own case has ended up being such a beta case for my career,” Ms. Greenfield said, “but because of it I’ve learned a ton about the mechanics of a certain kind of litigation.”
A client, speaking on the condition of anonymity because her divorce was continuing, said in an e-mail, “Let’s face it, when you’re going through a painful or messy or shameful-feeling period in your personal life, it’s comforting to be able to talk to someone who has been in those particular trenches.”
MS. GREENFIELD’s time in those trenches began in 2008, when, as a first-year associate at Gibson Dunn, a strait-laced corporate law firm, she found herself single and pregnant at 35.
The presumptive father was Mr. Toobin, a senior political analyst for CNN, staff writer for The New Yorker, best-selling author, married father of two teenagers and a close friend of Justice Elena Kagan of the Supreme Court, a classmate of his from Harvard Law. Ms. Greenfield met Mr. Toobin in the Condé Nast cafeteria when, while taking a breather from law school in her mid-20s, she worked as a fact-checker for Glamour magazine. They fell into a secretive off-and-on relationship spanning nearly a decade.
When Ms. Greenfield first informed him of her pregnancy, she said, Mr. Toobin questioned the paternity, balked at submitting to a test and vowed to take no responsibility for a baby he wasn’t sure was his. Both hired lawyers. Inevitably, the tabloids and gossip sites took notice of the scandal, dropping increasingly detailed hints about the behind-the-scenes drama.
“The one time you really don’t want to get pregnant is when you’re single and the other person is married and you’re working as a first-year junior associate at a law firm in a hard-core phase of trying to prove yourself to them,” Ms. Greenfield recalled last week. She said she ruled out an abortion. She did not delude herself that the emotional nadir of her life would qualify for much external sympathy. “I had a job at a prestigious firm,” she said, “a law degree from Yale that was paid for, a wonderful support group of friends.” But when she informed her parents that she was pregnant, she did not say by whom.
In March 2009, Ms. Greenfield had a baby boy and named him Roderick Henry Greenfield: Roderick is Mr. Labby’s middle name, and Henry is her father’s actual first name. She went on maternity leave for four months and then returned to Gibson Dunn until January 2011. She also sued Mr. Toobin for child support and custody of the baby, while being officially represented by Heidi Harris of Aronson, Mayefsky & Sloan, a preeminent matrimonial firm, and unofficially assisted by Mr. Labby, whom she calls her “fixer.”
Mr. Toobin ultimately acquiesced to a paternity test that confirmed he was the father of the boy, who is nicknamed Rory. He contested portions of her suit. The tabloids zeroed back in. In February 2010, the custody case was heard in Manhattan Family Court. It was not resolved until late last year, with Ms. Greenfield receiving full custody of Rory, including the right to make all pivotal decisions in his upbringing and schooling. She briefly represented herself in the remaining phase of litigation, a dispute over the amount of child support to which she was entitled; barring an 11th-hour settlement, the case is scheduled to return to Manhattan Family Court next month, this time with Mr. Labby litigating.
“Over the years Casey had periodically used me as a consultant on various matters, so when she asked me to take over her case last spring, it was an easy transition,” said Mr. Labby, whose working-class childhood in a mill town in Maine was the unpampered opposite of Ms. Greenfield’s. “I think it just became obvious to her that outstanding matters would remain contested, and representing oneself is fraught with peril no matter how good you are.”
Mr. Toobin’s lawyer, Patricia Ann Grant, of Grant & Appelbaum, said in an e-mail, without going into the specifics of the case: “The law assumes that both parents will contribute to the financial support of the child. Mr. Toobin is providing liberal financial support. Ms. Greenfield’s demands are unreasonable and do not comport with the law.”
As to continuing news media coverage of the matter, Mr. Toobin “feels that it’s not in Rory’s interest for this matter to be publicized,” Ms. Grant wrote. “He wishes Ms. Greenfield felt the same way.”
THESE days, Ms. Greenfield and Mr. Labby tend to their clients from a suite of offices at Sterling Lord Literistic, the literary agency that, besides renting space to Greenfield Labby, became its first corporate client. The atmosphere is stylishly bookish from the moment one exits the elevator; the firm is on the 12th floor of the landmarked Bayard-Condict Building on Bleecker Street, the only building in New York City designed by Louis Sullivan. The subliminal message: smart lawyers are at practice here.
Orin Snyder, Ms. Greenfield’s former boss at Gibson Dunn, where he is a senior partner, described her in an e-mail as “a natural-born litigator.”
“She is smart, savvy and tough,” he added.
In Ms. Greenfield’s office, there is a neutral-toned sofa she categorizes as “a fainting couch” and a box of tissues for clients immersed in romance gone wrong. As usual, Ms. Greenfield, 38 and strategically toned in all the right places, is wrapped in a slinky signature jersey dress by Diane Von Furstenberg. After 14-hour days, she goes home to Rory, now a rambunctious, highly verbal toddler blithely leaving scooter skid marks all over their ground-floor apartment in Brooklyn Heights. When she lets down her guard, she wryly refers to herself as “the mother of the tabloid baby.”
Rory spends every other weekend with Mr. Toobin and his family; he also visits in the summer and on some holidays. Ms. Greenfield and Mr. Toobin have not sparred over the time-sharing arrangement, but their parting of the ways, unlike Ms. Greenfield’s 2006 divorce from the Los Angeles-based screenwriter Matt Manfredi after less than two years of marriage, continues to be less than amicable.
“I don’t view her as being exploited by a man,” her friend and fellow single mother, Katie Roiphe, said. “I’d like to see somebody try.”
Ms. Roiphe, a professor at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University and the author of “Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Marriages,” added: “I don’t think she’s a victim or some scheming femme fatale, either. To me she’s living on a kind of heroic register: she isn’t going to let what other people think about her affect her choices, and there’s a real bravery in that. She’s not your average divorce lawyer. ”
Mr. Labby left his job as a vice president and special counselor at D. E. Shaw, a hedge fund, to become the managing partner in this new venture. He specializes in media and entertainment law and something less specific that he refers to as solving puzzles: he enjoys, he says, unraveling fraught situations, whether of a personal or professional nature. He and Ms. Greenfield are strategizing to market themselves as multitasking, next-generation Raoul Felders, but with Ivy League law degrees.
Mr. Labby said that he used to joke with Ms. Greenfield about becoming the next Gloria Allred, the high-profile Los Angeles lawyer who often represents women in controversial discrimination and rights cases. “Now I’m not so sure I was joking,” he said.
“We are obviously sensitive to people in high-profile relationships, or in media, entertainment and other industries where a divorce can have a big impact not only on their families, but on their businesses and friendships as well,” he said. As for any lingering taint of Ms. Greenfield’s tabloid custody battle, Mr. Labby prefers to view it as an enhancement of her legal experience and acumen. “It’s not like Casey got pregnant and ordered a J.D. online so she could start this firm,” he said.
Personal Becomes Professional—Former Gibson Lawyer Starts Firm
Vivia Chen, Careerist, December 8, 2011
Editor's Note: Since publishing this post, we've heard from Casey Greenfield. Her comments appear toward the end of the post.
Ever wondered what what would inspire someone to jump into the emotionally wrenching world of divorce and family law after practicing in a big firm? For Yale Law School grad Casey Greenfield (at right), the jump seemed to have been prompted by her own experience in chasing child support from a TV pundit.
A former lawyer at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher (and the daughter of ABC correspondent Jeff Greenfield), Greenfield just launched her own firm, Greenfield Labby, with another lawyer, Scott Labby. According to the firm's press release, Greenfield is described as a lawyer "with extensive experience representing clients in matters related to child support, child custody, spousal maintenance, equitable distribution, and family court practice."
Then the release says: "Greenfield’s unique personal experience as a parent, litigant, and lawyer in the courts gives her an invaluable insight into her clients’ goals and struggles."
If you've been reading the tabloids, you'll know what "personal experience" means here. According to the New York Daily News and Above the Law last year, Greenfield was locked in a messy battle over child support with her former married lover, Jeffrey Toobin, the CNN contributor and New Yorker writer. Here's what the Daily News wrote:
In 2008, when Greenfield became pregnant and when she told Toobin the news, he offered her "money if she'd have an abortion," says a source. He also allegedly offered to pay for her to have another child later via a sperm donor.
"When Casey wouldn't have an abortion, Jeff told her she was going to regret it, that she shouldn't expect any help from him," claims another source.
Greenfield underwent a risky DNA test while pregnant, but Toobin didn't provide his sample and stopped talking to her, according to sources. On the day she gave birth, Greenfield e-mailed Toobin, inviting him to meet his son, Rory. A source says Toobin didn't reply.
After Toobin finally agreed to a DNA test that established his paternity, he was ordered by a Manhattan family court to pay child support. Reports the Daily News: "When he refused to pay the full amount, say sources, Greenfield's lawyer threatened to notify his employers and garnish his wages; Toobin then paid up."
Greenfield downplays her personal ordeal. She says she got interested in family law as a first-year associate when she worked on matrimonial matters pro bono. But she adds: "The significance of my own experience is that I know very precisely what it’s like to be involved in a difficult family law dispute. I’ve been in my clients’ shoes; I’ve seen it and felt it. And I have learned an enormous amount, about the practical effect of family law on the individual, along the way."
Anyway, it's an interesting career trajectory. For Greenfield, it's also been a long personal saga. We wish her luck.