The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Lina Bensman, Partner—Litigation
Lina Bensman is a partner based in Cleary Gottlieb’s New York office. Her practice focuses on complex civil litigation.
She has acted as counsel to financial institutions and multinational corporations, as well as individual clients, in a variety of securities and other commercial litigation matters before federal and state courts. Lina also has experience in white collar criminal defense and internal investigations and has represented individual clients and corporations before the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice in high-stakes matters.
Lina joined the firm in 2011 and became a partner in 2020. She received a J.D., cum laude, from the New York University School of Law and a B.A., cum laude, from Brandeis University.
Describe your practice area and what it entails.
As a litigator, I help clients anticipate, prevent, plan for, and resolve disputes. This requires me to be creative, innovative, persistent, and as persuasive as humanly possible. The courtroom/argument work of litigation (as seen on TV) is challenging and very fun, but it’s just as important to my practice that I be able to help my clients understand evolving legal threats and capitalize on new perspectives and ideas. The strategic advice that I provide to my clients is just as important to them as my ability to dominate a deposition or prepare a killer brief.
What types of clients do you represent?
I represent a variety of clients, including natural resources companies, airlines, manufacturers, financial institutions, retailers, and individuals. Recently, I have been part of teams representing Petrobras, Brazil’s flagship energy company; Bosch, a German multinational engineering and technology company; and LATAM, the largest airline in Latin America.
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
Many of my matters are class actions, and some involve multiple related actions proceeding simultaneously in different forums (including foreign tribunals). I also advise clients on commercial disputes that involve direct counterparties, both when the disputes are in active litigation and before litigation commences, when the counterparties are working to resolve their disputes amicably (albeit within the framework of the law).
How did you choose this practice area?
I spent some time dabbling (especially as a summer associate, when I requested and received assignments from as many different practice areas as possible within Cleary), but in the end, litigation is where I have the most fun. As satisfying as it can be to find workable compromises and amicable solutions, I particularly enjoy the more aggressive and action-oriented aspects of my practice. Courtrooms are not quite the Thunderdome, but for those (like me) who enjoy competition and debate, they are great places to be.
What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?
Every day feels different, but the majority of my work is characterized by collaboration—with my colleagues, with my clients (with whom I develop the strategy and deepen my understanding of the facts and stakes), and sometimes even with opposing counsel (for example, when settling a matter). I spend a lot of time talking through factual and legal questions with others, and then turning our shared understanding into some kind of written product, like a brief or an interview outline.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
I am somewhat of a generalist (though with a focus in particular on commercial disputes and complex cases), and I find that curiosity and intellectual flexibility are particularly useful. Someone with a more general litigation practice should be able to learn new things effectively and pivot when the need arises, so I would recommend not being too locked in to specializing (especially at such an early stage) in any substantive area of the law, but instead making sure to understand the process of litigation and the rules that govern discovery and trial practice. I would couple that with a few classes in challenging but fascinating areas of the law, ideally totally distinct areas, to focus specifically on the skill of learning new things.
What are some typical tasks that a junior lawyer would perform in this practice area?
Junior team members on my matters often take on the role of subject matter experts, either in a particular area of the law or in some part of the key factual context. This naturally leads to opportunities to draft relevant sections of briefs, letters, interview or deposition outlines, and presentations. My cases often involve challenging subject matter, both factually (e.g., complex technology) and legally (e.g., innovative theories of liability), so junior lawyers often spend time deeply researching particular issues or diving into documents and testimony that illuminate key factual questions.
How do you see this practice area evolving in the future?
I expect (and hope) that the law will be increasingly influenced by scientific advancement across many fields—both because new technologies will force new approaches to dispute resolution, including by creating new kinds of disputes, and because evolving understanding of psychology and social forces will inform better legal principles. For example, hindsight bias is well studied academically, and the insights into combatting it that have come out of that research should increasingly influence how the rules of evidence are applied by courts.
In what ways has the coronavirus pandemic affected your practice? How have you adjusted to lawyering in the wake of COVID-19?
It will come as no surprise that the most noticeable change during the pandemic has been the shift to remote depositions and hearings. Having now participated in many remote events, I have found that they can be quite effective—and even have some advantages over the traditional live versions. For example, a remote hearing offers a much better view of the judge than a live hearing, which can help the attorneys arguing a motion calibrate their argument based on how it is being received. Something is definitely lost by not being in the same physical room as all other participants, but I would expect to see many more remote events even after circumstances improve.
What do you feel are the benefits of taking a generalist approach in litigation versus pursuing a more specialized practice?
For those who are passionate about a particular area of the law, I expect a specialized practice will be more rewarding than a general one, and I don’t consider specializing to be inferior in any way—indeed, I hear all too often about the advantages of a specialized practice. What I most enjoy is the process of litigation rather than its academic aspects, so regardless of the substance of the dispute, what I find most rewarding is developing a strategy that generates as many wins as possible for my client and generating arguments that persuade judges and juries. I also like collaborating with different people and learning new things—and having to be flexible pushes me to keep learning and growing as a lawyer.