Chris Porrino has full confidence that Matt Platkin can do the job of attorney general and do it very well.
It’s not just because the two have been working together at Lowenstein Sandler, where Porrino is the chair of the Litigation Department and the face of the Roseland-based firm.
And it’s not just because Platkin, at 35 and a graduate of Stanford Law, already is considered to have one of the top legal minds of his generation.
It’s the way Platkin carries himself in the courtroom, the boardroom and life, Porrino said.
“I’ve watched Matt counsel clients on the private side,” he said. “In addition to being smart, he’s very strategic, very tough and very strong.
“Being a truly gifted lawyer is not about saying, ‘On this hand, you could do this, and on that hand, you could do that.’ The really gifted lawyers can provide true recommendations and advice and can provide a pathway for their clients to get to the right answer. And that’s a big part of the attorney general’s job. You need to have a strength to do it and Matt has it.”
Porrino’s words carry a lot of weight, of course. Like Platkin, he served as chief counsel to a governor (Chris Christie) before becoming attorney general — something Platkin is expected to do after a confirmation hearing before the state Senate. So, Porrino knows, firsthand, the differences between the two top government jobs and the skillsets required.
Porrino also knows how much Platkin benefited by his brief return to private life — he joined Lowenstein 15 months ago.
“On the criminal enforcement side, it’s not just about putting up numbers on a board,” he said. “Who and which companies get charged for what are really important decisions that are never black and white. The ability to have seen some of these issues from the defense side, from the private side, and understanding the discretion and the importance of the exercise of that discretion as AG, I think it’s invaluable.”
The job, however, is more than just catching bad guys. Platkin essentially is stepping into the job of being managing partner of what is, by far, the biggest law firm in the state — one that deals with more issues than any other firm.
“Every complicated issue and every issue of importance in state government runs through what I used to call, ‘the state’s law firm.’ And Matt will now be in charge of that law firm.
“I can tell you that he’s got the right state of mind. He’s got the right approach. He is strategic. He’s careful. He’s tough. I think he will serve in the role as lawyer to the departments and agencies very effectively.”
While the chief counsel serves the governor, the attorney general is independent.
“On the criminal side, the Attorney General’s Office is completely independent — there is no opportunity for discussion or collaboration with the Governor’s Office or any other department or agency unless they’re a witness,” he said.
On the civil side?
“It is a little bit more nuanced,” Porrino said. “If the law didn’t permit whatever it is the Governor’s Office or another department or agency wanted to do, you had to find a workaround. And, in the moments when there isn’t a workaround, it’s the attorney general’s job to say, ‘No, that’s not something that can be done.’
“I have complete confidence that Matt Platkin will stand up and do the job that way because, frankly, the attorney general is not doing anybody a service by not acting that way.”
Read more from ROI-NJ:
- ‘Justice, justice shalt thou pursue’: With one phrase, Platkin explains his driving force while accepting nomination for attorney general
For as much praise as Porrino has for Platkin — and as much advice as he could give him — there’s one thing he can’t do: truly explain the job.
“No one who is given the opportunity to be the attorney general of New Jersey is fully prepared to do that job,” he said. “I certainly wasn’t.
“It’s such a unique job. It is far more powerful, and the authority is much further reaching, than the authority of most any other attorneys general around the country.”
And it’s not just you.
“The most important thing you need to remember as attorney general is that you have around 8,000 people who are working for you and with you — and they all have letterhead with your name on it. Their mistakes, and there will be mistakes, become your mistakes.
“You have to be prepared for things to go sideways.”
That’s when that strength, that toughness, comes into play, Porrino said.
“I got to know Matt during the transition, when I was finishing my term as AG and he was coming in as chief counsel,” Porrino said. “I could tell, right then, that he had a brilliant legal mind — and that he was tough. He has what it takes.”