Friend, mentor, icon: Why bringing Albin to Lowenstein was personal for Porrino

Chris Porrino remembers the first time he met Barry Albin. It was on a double date.

It was in the early 1990s and both Porrino and Albin had girlfriends — now their wives — studying at Seton Hall Law. They thought it would be fun to get the group together.

That night led to a personal and professional relationship between the two that continues to this day.

“I went to his wedding; he went to mine,” Porrino said. “He is someone that I would go to for advice on any number of issues. We have breakfast, talk on the phone — and we’ve been doing it for 25 or so years.”

The two can now do it in person.

Albin, who was forced to retire from the state Supreme Court on his 70th birthday earlier this month, was welcomed as a partner at Lowenstein Sandler on Thursday.

Chris Porrino.

He will work out of the Roseland office (where Porrino works as chair of the Litigation Department), serving as chair of Lowenstein’s Appellate Practice Group while also serving as a neutral arbitrator, special master and mediator in complicated, high-stakes disputes.

The one thing Albin won’t do is serve as a ceremonial hire who slowly slides into a retirement.

Porrino chuckles at the thought.

“There are some people who come off the bench and really want to only do mediations — that’s not Justice Barry Albin,” he said. “I’ve known him to work seven days a week as a justice over the last 20 years. He very much has another act in him.”

That starts now.

“I hope he’ll take some time to vacation and relax after 20 years of service — he deserves that,” Porrino said. “But I think I know him well enough to know that he’s not going to miss a beat. We had our partnership vote this morning. It ended at 10:30. He started at 10:45.

“He is jumping in this with both feet. He was a real lawyer before he became a judge. And he looks forward to being a true lawyer again, and I know that’s, that’s what he’s going to do.”

Here’s another thing that Albin will do: He’ll serve as an example to all the lawyers at Lowenstein Sandler — and all the lawyers in New Jersey — that Lowenstein is a firm that welcomes and appreciates those with a passion for public service.

Porrino, of course, is prime example of that.

His time at the firm has been put on pause so he could serve as both chief counsel to Gov. Chris Christie and later, attorney general. He is just one of many Lowenstein lawyers to shift between public and private life — along with Matt Platkin (the attorney general nominee), Paul Matey (judge on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals), Matthew Boxer (former state comptroller) and others.

“Lowenstein Sandler is a place where you, if you decide you want to go serve the public, become a prosecutor or a judge or whatever it is that you decide you want to do, we’re going to be supportive of that,” he said.

The firm, in fact, has meetings on the subject, Porrino said.

“We want people to be able to talk freely about it — and then we’ll do what we can to be helpful,” he said. “What we have found is that the people who can follow their dreams, do what they want to do, are going to be happier in the long run. And they’re going to learn a lot when they’re in public service, as well. I certainly know that as well as anyone.”

Here’s something else Porrino knows: It doesn’t matter if you are known as a Democrat or a Republican.

“I couldn’t be happier having lawyers at this firm on both sides of that spectrum, because it provides for spirited conversation,” he said. “And, when it comes to the lawyering, it’s all the same. Either you’ve got the talent, or you don’t. And Justice Barry Albin has got the talent in spades. He just is among the most talented lawyers I have ever met.”

Which brings it back to the reason Porrino was so eager to welcome Albin. He’s not just an old friend, he’s considered one of the top justices on the court of his generation. He authored more than 400 opinions, including more than 230 majority opinions, more than 130 dissents and dozens of concurrences.

Albin is the author of landmark opinions on the rights of same-sex couples, the rights of the accused and workers, and civil rights, among others, Porrino said. He also has authored a number of dissents, which later became law.

And, before all that, Porrino said, he was known as an incredible trial lawyer.

“We like to think that we handle the most sophisticated, most difficult and highest stakes challenges for our clients,” Porrino said. “When I look at Justice Albin, I see someone who has been involved in exactly those kinds of matters over the course of his career. First, as a prosecutor, then, as a justice and now, again, as a lawyer — we’re just thrilled that he’s coming on board.”