Most people sift through dozens of career dreams as youths and may even try a few of them out in adulthood before settling into what becomes their main life’s work. The boyhood dreams of Justin Litvack, Boxer & Gerson’s newest partner, were not the least bit like that.
“My dad was an attorney and judge pretty much my whole life, and he worked at home quite a bit, so I saw what he did,” says the 37-year-old Litvack, who joined the firm’s partnership group on January 1. “It just seemed natural that I would go into the law; I can’t say I ever really considered any other field.”
Burton Litvack was a longtime staff attorney with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) before being named an Administrative Law Judge with that same board. Judge Litvack had a home office which exposed his son to litigation at an early age.
The younger Litvack’s close daily proximity to his father encouraged rather than dissuaded him from going into the law, though he admits that on the rare occasions he attended one of his father’s trials, he found them quite the opposite of the tense courtroom dramas one sees on television and films.
“How do you stay awake through all that?” Litvack remembers jocularly asking his father at the time.
Litvack grew up with an older sister in the family home on the island, where his parents still live. He cites a familiar story of an innocent and largely carefree childhood spent exploring the shoreline, bike-riding to the baseball card shop, and playing ball in the parks in a far less crowded and commercial town than it is today. Alameda at the time was known mostly as a small working class town that served a U.S. naval base.
Baseball has always loomed large for Litvack, his ardor stoked by early exposure to Oakland A’s home games a few stone’s throws from the family home. “Weekends we’d always be watching sports,” he says. “Some of the best memories of my childhood were of my dad coming to take me out of school for day games at the Coliseum.”
Being an upstanding judge, his father did not tell school authorities his son had a doctor’s appointment or funeral to attend, but instead indicated: “We’re going to the A’s game.” This apparently caused not even a ripple along the island’s shores.
Reflecting the same candor, Burton’s son also admits to a slight variance in the above comments regarding his career aspirations, allowing that he would have happily become a professional baseball player but for his own early recognition that he lacked the prodigious natural talent required for that particular career field.
Still, though, his boyhood dalliance with the sport no doubt befitted the future attorney who prefers to have the whole field in front of him for observation—evidence being the photo atop this page showing his catching duties in the Alameda Little League of his youth.
We deal with clients at their absolute worst, who are rarely happy people. They’ve lost jobs, are in pain, they’re having their claims contested, their honesty questioned. The cool thing is that we get to help them and make their lives better. That’s really satisfying.
Litvack’s closeness to his family actually acted as a spur for him to stretch a bit in his choice of college after graduating from Alameda High School. As a youth, he’d noted the Washington Huskies’ three straight Rose Bowl appearances in the early 1990s, along with their solid academic reputation and the not unimportant fact that “it was nowhere near home—I liked that. I’ve always wanted to challenge myself.”
As his college graduation approached with law school on his mind, his mother brightly suggested, “How about coming home for a while?” Her son dutifully assented, so it was down Highway 101 to Santa Clara Law School and the J.D. degree that would pave the way for his passage of the California Bar Exam in 2005. That’s when his first fateful career decision paved the way for the ultimate one to follow.
“I went to work for two different firms defending insurance carriers against workers’ compensation claims,” he says. “The ‘other side of the table.’ I like to work but it’s hard to get motivated for a faceless client. When you’re representing an insurance company, it’s all about moving paper and money. It gnawed at me, especially when I found myself beginning to think negatively about people. I knew that is not a good way to live.”
Mischa and Justin in Alaska last year with children Eliana and Cooper
Conservative by temperament, Litvack was deliberate about his next move despite his unease, not yet breaking down any doors to make a career switch. It turned out he didn’t have to, because Boxer & Gerson attorneys who had sat across from him at the proverbial negotiating table had taken note of his skill set and studious, understated manner. In 2012, they approached him about joining the firm.
“My immediate gut reaction was yes, but it took eight or nine months to untangle it all,” he says. “I had always told myself that if I were approached by Boxer & Gerson, I would do it. In the legal field, you don’t usually find jobs—they find you. I’m not a big risk-taker, but I didn’t want to be 45 wondering where I’d be when I turned 55. I wanted a place I could sink into for 30, 40, 50 years. What stood out for me about Boxer & Gerson was that no one ever leaves. That’s very unusual, and it told me this is a very special place.”
He sounds a serious note when reflecting on the five years with the firm that preceded his recent partnership. “You can do this as a 9 to 5 job, but it never feels that way to me. I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say it’s a ‘calling,’ but it’s definitely more than a job. We deal with clients at their absolute worst, who are rarely happy people. They’ve lost jobs, are in pain, they’re having their claims contested, their honesty questioned. The cool thing is that we get to help them and make their lives better. That’s really satisfying.”
Litvack and his wife Mischa packed up their then 1-year-old daughter in 2015 and moved from Alameda to Novato to live on the same property with Mischa’s parents. Their son was born shortly thereafter. The more rural setting with its horse farms and open spaces appeals to them, as does the continued proximity to Litvack’s sister in Martinez. Her twin boys are just two months older than Litvack’s son, so extended family gatherings are a regular and high voltage affair.
“It’s made all the kids really close, and all four grandparents are retired now, so they are involved and close by,” he says. “Everything has worked out better than we could have imagined.”
He’s speaking of his family circumstance there, but it requires no acrobatic mental leap to understand that for Justin Litvack—attentive and dutiful son, solid student, ardent baseball fan, watchful employee and now Boxer & Gerson partner—things are also working out in his career “better than he could have imagined.”
A nice real world addendum to those imaginings was a recent case, decided just last September, in which Litvack won a $1.4 million judgment for a former Walgreen’s manager who had lived in constant pain and near destitution since a 2009 back injury and failed subsequent surgeries.
Litvack says as little as possible about his own skillful and persistent role in securing the judgment. That’s a reflection of the essential modesty that undergirds his approach to life and his own character. In his world, it would be unseemly to angle for any advantage or recognition, or to nurse extravagant dreams. Better to keep one’s head down, work hard, and trust that others may notice and come to you when they need help.
That seems to have been a winning formula for Justin Litvack as one of the nice guys who, contrary to the old saying, keeps finishing first.