Judge Hillman joining Gibbons, to serve key role in ADR practice

Time on bench — and as prosecutor — makes him ideal candidate for often-overlooked path to settle business disputes

Follow closely on this one: In his first day in private practice in more than 30 years, Judge Noel Hillman has an opinion that may surprise some: Going to court is not always the best way to solve a dispute.

Especially a business dispute.

Hillman, a retired federal judge who served for nearly two decades on the bench of the U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey, joined Gibbons P.C. on Thursday. He will serve in a number of capacities, including litigation, but his top priority will be to bring more attention to the firm’s Alternative Dispute Resolution practice — a point of emphasis going forward.

Hillman, 67, also had a decorated nine-year career as an assistant U.S. attorney for the District of New Jersey. He said he has seen enough cases over the years to understand the value of ADR — and to know that a public setting is not always the best setting to handle a dispute.

“If there’s a risk of trade secrets being revealed — or you’re getting sued by an employee and part of the defense is what the employee manual looks like, and that can reveal methods of conducting your business — you probably don’t want that information in the public record,” he said. “I think businesses need to be educated about the advantages of dispute resolution outside of the public eye.

“It is not as exciting as court cases, but that’s OK. Arbitrations and mediations, by design, are meant to be private, so they can allow for full disclosure — and, sometimes, that disclosure includes your vulnerabilities and weaknesses. That’s not something you want in open court.”


Gibbons Managing Director Peter Torcicollo understands this well. After all, a healthy ADR practice has long been a stable of the firm, going back to John J. Gibbons, a former chief judge of the Third Circuit, U.S. Court of Appeals.

Torcicollo can easily rattle off a long history of judges to work at Gibbons, including the late Herman Michels and Andrew Moore, as well as Edwin Stern.

Jim Zazzali, a former New Jersey attorney general and chief justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court, handles much of the firm’s ADR practice now.

“We’ve had this long run of phenomenal judicial talent at the firm, but the simple reality is that really robust ADR practice that we’ve had through those former judges has shrunk over time,” Torcicollo said.

The need for ADR services, however, is growing, based on three key reasons:

  • Costs are forcing many to find alternatives to court;
  • A backlog of cases and shortage of judges is making it harder to get to court, if you so choose;
  • There are not enough super-talented former judges available to handle the work.

“We want to increase our ability to be an Alternative Dispute Resolution provider because there is so much work out there,” Torcicollo said. “The ones who are really good are in high demand. My expectation is that Judge Hillman will be in high demand.

“I know Chief Justice Zazalli is very excited to have Judge Hillman join us and really be the person that the chief can hand the baton to and lead the firm’s ADR practice into the future.”


Hillman jokes about what his legal life will be like now that he no longer runs a courtroom, he said.

“I know that people no longer will stand up when I walk into a room — and I know they no longer will have to laugh, even when my jokes aren’t funny,” he said. “I’m going to have to learn to be funny.”

The legal skills, he’s got down.

Torcicollo said Hillman will work out of the firm’s offices in Philadelphia, Newark and New York — and trusts that his reputation will bring calls in all areas.

Hilman feels his experience on the bench will help in his new role.

“I’ve reached the point in my career where I’ve seen a lot — and I think that that level of experience and, hopefully, good judgment, will lend itself to adding value to those who come to me as a neutral to help resolve their disputes in a way that’s efficient and fair for both sides,” he said.

“No one is ever completely satisfied with a settlement. That’s what it is. But getting people to understand that’s part of the process — and that eliminating risk and lowering costs is worth a little bit of distaste.”

Hillman also said his years on the bench have allowed him to see where alternate solutions — something other than money or injunctive relief — are the best result, he said.

“Sometimes, it’s just a plaintiff who wants a cathartic release — they want a neutral party to tell their story to,” he said. “And then, when you hear the story, and you empathize with them — and also explain the risks of litigation — you often get them to a place where they’re less confrontational or less angry.

“Then, it’s a lot easier to find a resolution.”


When Gibbons aimed to reload its ADR practice, Torcicollo went through the list of potential candidates and quickly came to Hillman.

“Judge Hillman hits so many marks for us,” he said. “What he brings to the table as a former judge — his ability to conduct arbitrations, mediations, special master work, fiscal monitor work and other sorts of monitor appointments — is invaluable.

“In addition, he’s still a young vibrant practitioner who really is eager to roll up his sleeves and get involved in white collar, criminal and investigation work here at the firm — as well as commercial litigation, because his expertise includes pretty sophisticated stuff like intellectual property.

“There are so many facets to what he brings to the table, that we’re just really, really excited about it.”

Then, there’s this: Torcicollo confidence in Hillman’s ability comes from real-world experience — as Hillman was the judge on a case Torcicollo tried in 2016 involving a bid dispute over a contract to repaint the Commodore Barry Bridge.

Hillman, who offered great praise for Torcicollo and the entire team at Gibbons, said the firm was at the top of his list when he began pondering his career after the bench.

The ADR practice is closest thing there is to being a judge, he said.

It also enables him to do what has been the goal of each day of his career: make a difference.

“A judge helps people solve problems,” he said. “And, although his role will be different, it also gives me a bigger platform and an additional scenario to do that very thing — to help people resolve their disputes. I can’t think of a finer thing for a lawyer to do.”