Legendary sendoff: Gibbons honors retiring Griffinger after more than 50 years of service

The hardest thing to do when a legendary figure retires from your firm simply may be attempting to describe his essence as a person and his influence as an attorney.

Such was the case last month at Gibbons P.C. in Newark, when Michael Griffinger was lauded by Peter Torcicollo, managing director of the firm and a longtime colleague.

“Mentor. Trial lawyer. Founding father. Standard-bearer. Friend. Trusted adviser. Gentleman. Leader. Icon. Those are just a few of the words I would use to describe Mike Griffinger,” Torcicollo said.

“What I learned as a young associate working with Mike was that he was patient, thoughtful and genuinely appreciative of the hard work of everyone on his team. His leadership and mentorship are among his finest qualities, and I consider it my privilege and my honor to have practiced alongside Mike over many years.”

It’s hard to overstate the importance of Griffinger on Gibbons — a firm that once bore his name.

Griffinger, who joined the firm in 1965 as an associate following his military service as a lieutenant in the Navy and a clerkship in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Essex County, was a prominent figure in the firm’s Commercial & Criminal Litigation Group for more than five decades.

The firm was named Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione before it took on its current name in 2007.

Throughout his tenure, Griffinger actively litigated in federal and state courts throughout the country, in addition to New Jersey. His litigation experience covers a wide range of areas, including corporate and commercial disputes, securities litigation, estate litigation, antitrust matters, corporate reorganizations and bankruptcy.

One of his most notable and successful litigations, Murphy vs. NCAA – 138 S. Ct. 1461 (2018), involved his representation of the New Jersey Legislature in the U.S. Supreme Court in a case that authorized state regulation of sports betting. As a seasoned attorney, he has served as the principal author of “New Jersey Estate & Trust Litigation,” a comprehensive guide for practitioners of probate law.

Ever the pioneer, Griffinger conceived and structured the firm’s John J. Gibbons Fellowship in Public Interest & Constitutional Law, the first program at a legal firm to hire attorneys to work exclusively and full time on pro bono matters. Since the fellowship launched in 1990, it has taken on matters of cutting-edge legal importance and broad significance, including same-sex marriage, voting rights and racial justice, to name just a few.

Lawrence Lustberg, director of the Gibbons Fellowship and director in the Commercial & Criminal Litigation Group, said Griffinger’s impact was enormous.

“Mike is a great friend to all of us here at Gibbons, and we are truly privileged to get to interact with him day in and day out,” he said. “When we do so, we see that he is not just being a great lawyer, but really a great person and an amazing colleague, mentor and friend. Mike is what we should all aspire to.”

Griffinger officially retired March 31. Lustberg said his impact remains.

“Like others here at Gibbons over the years, Mike is a giant of the legal profession, who leaves behind gigantic footprints and giant shoes to fill,” he said. “We can try, but it will not be entirely possible to fill them.”

Griffinger has been consistently lauded by clients, peers and respected legal organizations and publications over his storied career. He is a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers and International Academy of Trial Lawyers, invitation-only fellowships of outstanding trial attorneys with varied practices and backgrounds, selected after comprehensive, rigorous vetting processes for demonstrating the highest standards of professionalism, ethics, integrity and achievement throughout their careers. In particular, IATL limits its membership to only 500 active trial lawyers from the U.S. and approximately 150 from nearly 40 countries worldwide.

Griffinger is also a fellow of the American Bar Foundation, an honorary society recognizing attorneys in various roles throughout the legal profession for their exceptional achievements, selecting only 1% of attorneys licensed to practice in each jurisdiction. In 2010, the Association of the Federal Bar of New Jersey presented him with its William J. Brennan Jr. Award, which celebrates one outstanding jurist per year.

His steadfast commitment to the community, particularly in Newark, dates back decades. In the 1960s, he enlisted attorneys during the Newark riots to help those unable to afford legal representation. More recently, as a major supporter and trustee of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, he raised more than $200,000 for the venue in 2008 by climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, at age 72, with his daughter, Kim.

Some of his other charitable endeavors include serving as chairman of the Greater Newark Holiday Fund, co-chairman of the Greater Newark Fresh Air Fund, and board chairman of Volunteer Lawyers for Justice, which recognized him as a “Champion of Change” in 2010.

For his leadership and advocacy, he also received the New Jersey State Bar Association’s Lifetime Pro Bono Achievement Award in 2020, New Jersey State Bar Foundation’s Medal of Honor in 2013 and New Jersey Chapter of the American Jewish Committee’s Judge Learned Hand Human Relations Award in 2009.

How do you sum all of that up? Executive Chairperson Patrick Dunican gave it his best shot, too.

“Mike leaves an unparalleled legacy at Gibbons and has made a lasting impact on both the legal industry and the community at large,” he said. “He has been a mentor, role model and friend to many at the great Gibbons law firm, and we will miss him greatly.”