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Michael D. Silverman: A Trailblazing Attorney Driven by a Passion to Help Clients Succeed


Michael D. Silverman: A Trailblazing Attorney Driven by a Passion to Help Clients Succeed

June 26, 2024
Michael D. Silverman

Thirty years into an accomplished and trailblazing career defending clients in complex asbestos litigation matters and fighting to protect the rights of those in the LGBTQ community, Goldberg Segalla partner Michael D. Silverman’s passion for serving those he represents burns as bright as it did the day he started as a young attorney in New York City.

“What drives me is delivering the best results I can,” said Michael, a partner in the firm’s Toxic Tort and Environmental Law group. “I am very engaged with clients. I know they are facing challenges and I know that managing litigation can be stressful and difficult for them. That only strengthens my resolve to deliver the best possible outcome.”

Upon graduating law school, Michael was hired by a large New York City firm and found himself in its Toxic Tort group. “I just fell in love with the practice,” he said.

Still, he never lost sight of the personal commitment he made to himself, which was to also work in non-profit law to benefit the public interest. Thus, he began working too in the civil rights arena, fighting to protect the LGBTQ community from discrimination and playing an integral role in a handful of landmark cases. He also went on to create the groundbreaking Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund in 2003, serving as its executive director for more than a decade.

“Being a lawyer was something that I was interested in from an early age,” said Michael. “I find what I do to be engaging, dynamic and challenging every single day. I have never stopped learning. Where new challenges pop up, my goal must be to figure out a solution to the challenge or problem, and that’s exciting. It keeps me on my toes.”

That’s especially true in the world of Toxic Tort law.

“Understanding a client’s goals is important to understanding what a win looks like for them,” Michael said. “Some of our clients are involved long term in asbestos litigation, and they may have goals for that litigation that involve managing it in certain ways. Deeply understanding the challenges a client is facing is crucial to delivering the best legal services.”

In asbestos litigation, he said, it’s common for clients to be sued multiple times with similar types of allegations of exposure.

“It can be difficult for a client without talented, hardworking counsel to organize that litigation,” Michael said. “Clients really appreciate in a litigation — where they might be involved in 25, or 100, or for some, even 1,000 or more cases — having counsel who can help them stay on top of what they need to be focused on at any given time. The question we must answer is: ‘How can we help to cut through the haze of litigation?’ and show a client how we can help them manage the problem they’re facing. How can we help them achieve their goals?”

The challenge for many clients facing exposure claims, Michael said, is that asbestos litigation “can sometimes feel like quicksand. It can be difficult for clients to extricate themselves from the liabilities arising from things that happened many, many decades ago in most cases.”

“It remains imperative for clients to retain expert outside counsel when they are confronted with asbestos liabilities,” he said. “Asbestos dockets around the country are more packed than ever. That can sometimes mean that cases are rushed through the court system. We cannot let that happen. We must fight to ensure that verifiable facts, tested scientific principles, and the law are kept front and center when determinations about liability are being made.”

“Goldberg Segalla has an extraordinary Toxic Torts team that is second to none,” Michael said, explaining his recent decision to join the firm. “We have deep and long-term experience in all aspects of asbestos and other types of product liability litigation and that offers tremendous benefits to clients. For me, it presented the opportunity to synergistically grow my practice by being able to take advantage of the depth of knowledge here and offer services to clients that I might not be able to offer on my own because they touch upon expertise that some of my new colleagues have.”

Also attracting him to Goldberg Segalla was its commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Since becoming an attorney in 1994, Michael has been on the front lines in the fight to protect the civil rights of the LGBTQ community.

“I grew up in a world where it wasn’t yet OK to be gay,” he said. “Like virtually every LGBTQ person, I faced a lot of discrimination in every aspect of my life and that instilled in me a sense of commitment to trying to change some of that, and there have been remarkable successes in my lifetime in accomplishing that goal. I am proud to have been even a small part of that.”

Michael’s legal work on LGBTQ matters includes a case that reached the U.S. Supreme Court involving a challenge to the Boy Scouts of America’s then-existing exclusion of gay scouts and scoutmasters. The challenge, and the work by Michael and others, led the Boy Scouts to voluntarily change their policy, ending the discriminatory practices. He also worked on a case in the mid 1990s in Hawaii that challenged restrictions on gay people’s freedom to marry there. While the legal challenge was successful, the restrictions were then upheld at the ballot box when Hawaii amended its constitution. Still, the case had far-reaching implications, as LGBTQ people nationwide eventually won the freedom to marry at the Supreme Court level.

“The struggle is not done just because we won the freedom to marry,” said Michael. “Even the freedom to marry itself can seem uncertain in our current climate. The freedom to marry, and the cases that led to the freedom to marry, were built, in some respects, upon Roe v. Wade. So, what does it mean now that the Supreme Court has dismantled Roe v. Wade? Is the freedom to marry as secure as we think it is? That remains an open question.”

Michael’s commitment to LGBTQ rights and diversity extends beyond the courtroom. Another way he stays connected to the movement is through teaching. He has served as an adjunct professor for two decades, and now teaches a course on “Gender, Sexuality and the Law” at Fordham University’s School of Law. He also remains committed to his work with the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, which he founded in 2003.

“I’m incredibly proud of the organization,” he said. “It continues to thrive in pursuit of equal rights, and I look upon it fondly. It’s been a little over 20 years since I founded the organization and issues of transgender rights are, on certain days, front and center in The New York Times. We were able to move the needle on the public discussion and debate about the discrimination that transgender people face and ways that we might be able to remedy that discrimination. But that said, when we see a lot of this coverage about transgender rights, it is still about things like state legislatures trying to restrict transgender rights or trying to ban access to healthcare for transgender people. It is not all positive news. We have more work to do.”

Meanwhile, there remains a need to continue pushing for diversity and inclusion within the legal profession — and it has nothing to do with quotas. In fact, ultimately, it’s about results.

“When I walk into a courtroom before a jury and I see a very diverse jury here in New York, for example, and I see a legal team that looks very non-diverse, that raises a concern for me about what the jury is thinking,” Michael said. “That’s doubly true if our opposing legal team looks more diverse. These kinds of things are important, and I am always thinking about that as part of the legal services I am providing; doing it with a team that is diverse has been shown in studies to produce better results.

“I think the profession is moving in the right direction,” he added. “That progress, perhaps, is not as fast as I would like it to be. As someone who has been in the profession for 30 years, I can look at the point where I started, to the point where we are today, and say, ‘Wow, we have made progress.’ But that may be cold comfort to someone just starting out today and still facing challenges based on their background. It remains the case that women, people of color, and LGBTQ people are underrepresented in many parts of the legal community.

“Goldberg is doing great work,” on this front, said Michael. “The firm is deeply committed to diversity, equity and inclusion through recruitment, through its efforts to retain talent and through its commitment to advancing lawyers along the path to partnership. The firm has been moving forward to ensure that lawyers from diverse backgrounds can thrive here. And that’s part of the firm’s commitment to clients. Diverse teams deliver exceptional results.”