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Erwin Shustak’s inimitable perspective and perception have protected clients to the tune of hundreds of millions recovered for victims of financial abuse and fraud.

When Shustak Frost & Partners, P.C. opened its San Diego office in 1998, they were far from the new kids on the block. In fact, the firm, founded by Erwin J. Shustak in New York City, had already been enormously successful for more than 20 years. Shustak had built a thriving Manhattan practice that specialized in representing victims of securities or financial fraud, regional brokerage firms, Financial and Investment Advisors, and medium to large businesses involved in complex business disputes. Yet, the desire to raise his then three year old son outside of the city that never sleeps led him west, settling his family in San Diego.

With a strong, national client base firmly intact, Shustak was confident that his new West Coast Practice would prove successful, but admits he envisioned that New York would continue to serve as the firm’s epicenter. He was pleasantly surprised therefore, to find that within 4-5 years, the San Diego office of Shustak Frost & Partners was handling a caseload greater than its East Coast counterpart. Even more surprising, within 7 years, the San Diego office was larger, busier, and had more attorneys and staff than New York. That has remained the case, with 12 of the firm’s attorneys based in San Diego and only 3 in New York.

“I liked the pace, beauty and climate of San Diego and the legal and business community were very welcoming. In New York, bombastic lawyers are the norm. Here, the bar is more polite, respectful and collegial. I never liked the intensity or aggression of practicing in New York,” Shustak says. That didn’t mean, however, that new clients would beat down the firm’s new San Diego doors, nor did he expect them to. On the contrary, Shustak has always felt the need “to create the market for his services,” one of the many lessons his father, a successful businessman, taught him.

“My father used to say, ‘if you want to get clients, you have to earn their trust and ask for their business!’” Indeed, long before he was founder of one of San Diego’s “few firms focused in the area of securities and financial law with a breadth of expertise and experience representing financial institutions; broker dealers; registered investment advisory firms; registered representatives; financial advisors and public investors,” Shustak was creating a unique perception and perspective when it came to life and law; a view and a practice that would benefit clients, large and small, from around the globe.


As a child, I had a very strong sense of fairness. It bothered me greatly to see smaller, weaker people being bullied by bigger, stronger ones. I identified with the underdog. I felt that people and businesses needed someone to stand between them and those who tried to and did take advantage of them. I was a tall, skinny kid and had my own share of being pushed around. It created an internal sense of moral outrage that people would prey upon those they perceived as smaller, weaker or less sophisticated.” In the financial world, he found this to be overwhelmingly true. “There are those who work their whole lives to save their nest egg and those who spend their days scheming how to take that money from them. Good times or bad times, there is always a scam, scoundrel or fraud in the making. I vowed as a child never to be a victim and to help those who were.”

“Over the years, I realized I could combine my keen interest in uncovering truth and getting to the bottom of an issue with my desire to help people who have been victimized and stand between those who sought to oppress others and those who otherwise would be victims. Being a lawyer seemed to be the best and highest use of my talents, skills and desires to help the unfortunate. It was a perfect fit,” Shustak explains.

As a law student, he developed his natural skills and talents, including an aptitude for linear thinking and old-fashioned detective work.”I did well; top of my class; Law Review; all the brass rings.” He also took objective stock and focused on his potential shortcomings. “While I did very well in college and graduated Phi Beta Kappa and with Highest Distinction in Economics, I never really learned to write. Throughout college and law school [at NYU], writing was my weak point. Once I graduated law school, and realized I would be writing for the rest of my life, I needed to develop written skills to best communicate my thoughts and advocate for my clients. I bought a number of writing and style books, and spent weeks just reading and studying them. I had to teach myself to write from the ground up,” he recalls.

It was also during those years that Shustak found his own voice. While enrolled in the Dale Carnegie program, ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’, Shustak learned the art of public speaking. “One night I gave an extemporaneous speech. I was nervous but I learned then and there to speak from my heart. When I finished, the other students gave me a standing ovation and I won the award for the best speech. From that night on, I have stayed true to speaking from my heart and have never looked back,” Shustak explains.

Having graduated at the top of his class and serving as a member of the Law Review, it wasn’t surprising that Shustak was courted by most of the major New York law firms. Having his choice of firms, Shustak accepted a position with Kaye Scholer Fierman Hays & Handler, one of the then New York powerhouse firms, where he’d worked as a summer clerk after his second year of law school.

“It was a great place to learn and watch how law is practiced at the highest level. The firm had a spectacular practice and very bright, well-respected partners with whom I worked on a variety of matters, including mergers and acquisitions; major litigations and real estate transactions. It was a very interesting experience but after almost exactly one year, I realized I was missing something. My father was a self made, successful businessman. I loved working with my father and learned a great deal about how to run a business and court and keep clients. I missed that experience very much and wanted to have my own clients, run my own business and have a more direct connection with clients who needed my help. I became a lawyer to help people with their problems and working in a large mega-firm kept me too removed from the people I wanted to help,” he says.


Armed with a solid sense of self, and knowing that not only could he make a difference in peoples’ lives, but that he would make a difference in peoples’ lives, Shustak went into business for himself with gusto.

“I was 27, single, living in what was then an inexpensive Manhattan apartment with very few obligations. I borrowed $5,000 and rented a large, impressive office on Park Avenue. I had no clients, a few dollars in the bank but a great deal of energy and enthusiasm. I worked seven days a week. My personal and professional life blended. I started to take on all kinds of cases. I learned that there were many people who needed legal help and everyone wanted a young, hungry, inexpensive lawyer who would give their cases his all. That was me,” he says honestly. “I worked hard and loved learning my profession.”

“I tried case after case. I tried every kind of case I could, ranging from civil rights cases for unions, contract disputes to securities arbitrations before they were mandatory. I would not settle cases unless my clients were paid everything,” he says.

His tenacity did not go unnoticed by his peers. After representing more than 250 former Helena Rubinstein executives who were laid off en masse when Colgate Palmolive bought the company and did wholesale layoffs without paying the employees the severance pay to which they were entitled, Shustak successfully appealed the trial judge’s decision dismissing the case. “It was me, with a part time secretary who worked four hours on Thursday evenings, against two of the largest law firms in New York. Only after the company and its attorneys realized I was not giving up or going away did they settle the case and pay my clients every penny to which they were entitled,” he says. Shustak quickly earned a quick reputation as a champion of the underdog, and adversaries learned firsthand that, as Shustak puts it “I would not go away. I still won’t.”

Shustak’s refusal to back down in the face of intimidation certainly doesn’t mean that after 36 years in the field, he continues to take every case brought to him. In fact, the opposite is true today. He only takes cases that he feels strongly about and has no difficulty telling clients the truth from the get go. “I am extremely honest with clients. If I don’t think it’s a good case, I’ll tell the client. Clients appreciate honesty. Most clients listen to me. I guess it’s the benefit of having grey hair,” he jokes. But he earnestly states “I can’t think of a single case where we were on the wrong side of the case. I feel strongly about all of our cases.”


In addition to refusing to handle matters that are questionable or clients whose ethics he does not share, Shustak also refuses to be anything less than rigorously straightforward with clients from the outset. The firm’s motto, “we exist solely to serve clients” bears true in the transparency Shustak offers every client, beginning from the initial consultation which is always free of charge. “I insist that the client is informed and consulted during each stage of the process-that every document or piece of paper we receive or generate is given to the client and that we constantly check in with them to ensure the client understands what is going on in his or her cases. I cannot remember a client calling me to ask about the status of his or her case. They don’t need to. We always call them,” he says.

“People care less about the outcome than they do about having honest, responsible and attentive attorneys. Studies bear that out. Being candid with clients is what keeps them coming back. If there is going to be exposure, I let them know up front. I tell them when it is going to be ugly and nasty, and if they should settle. I am very candid, very direct, and give my 100% honest appraisal on each case,” he says.

The strategy appears to be working exceptionally well. To date, Shustak Frost & Partners has been instrumental in recovering over $900 million for defrauded investors over the 36 years since the firm’s inception. They routinely handle FINRA arbitrations; federal and state securities fraud, business and intellectual property cases; disciplinary hearings for brokers, brokerage firms and investment advisors and defend brokerage firms and other institutional clients from various claims by brokers and investors.

One thing Shustak doesn’t do, is sit in his office, resting on his laurels or past accomplishments. Instead he remains committed to a business strategy he’s invoked for years, and it’s a strategy he encourages young attorneys to utilize as well.

“If you meet someone who is in position to give you legal work and it is a client that you want to work for, don’t hesitate to go in person, hat in hand, and ask for a chance. I always do that and can’t count how many high quality clients I have had over the years who have given me their legal business merely because I was honest and asked for a chance to represent them,” he says.

Finally, Shustak counts his own experiences as a consumer of legal services as being invaluable to his sensitivity to what his clients need and expect. Between business and personal matters, including an expensive divorce, Shustak has personally spent more than $1.0 million in attorney fees over the past 36 years. While he’s certainly not thrilled about the cost, the experiences of being a client on the other side of the desk have been priceless to his maturity and sensitivity to his clients. “Having been a client many times, and having paid attorneys hundreds of thousands of dollars for their time and advice, I developed a real empathy to what it is like to be a client. That has made me that much better of an attorney. I know what clients need and expect.”

It certainly sounds like Erwin Shustak’s perspective has remained firmly grounded in his childhood dreams of protecting the weak, the unsuspecting and the trusting from the “many large institutions which operate with a thin veneer of respectability, but in reality are racketeering enterprises committing frauds and scams.” As a matter of fact, in the 36 years since he graduated from law school, he’s done his best to combat unscrupulous opportunists by helping victims of all kinds.




• BA, 1973, Rutgers College, Phi Beta Kappa; Cum Laude and Highest Distinction in the Field of Economics.

• JD, 1976, New York University School of Law.  Elected to Law Review on the basis of academic excellence.



• Southern California Super Lawyers, 2007, 2008 and 2009 (business and securities litigation)

• “Top Influential of 2012” selected by the San Diego Daily Transcript

• “Top Attorney 2005” selected by the Editors of the San Diego Daily Transcript



• Arbitrator for  FINRA (formerly the NASD) and The National Futures Association

• Association of Trial Lawyers of America; Business Trial Attorneys of San Diego

• New York, California and San Diego County Bar Associations



Erwin J. Shustak
Shustak Frost & Partners, P.C.

401 West A Street, 23rd Floor
San Diego, CA 92101
570 Lexington Avenue - 16th floor
New York, NY 10022

Jennifer Hadley

Jennifer Hadley is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal

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About the Author: Jennifer Hadley is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal

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