Congratulations to WilmerHale and two of its associates, Ross Firsenbaum and Shauna Friedman. They just scored a big-time victory in a pro bono case.
It’s a story straight out of the movies. WilmerHale’s client, Dewey Bozella, a 50-year-old African-American man, was released from custody earlier this week — after serving 26 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. From the New York Times:
Mr. Bozella would still be in prison except for a few lucky breaks. The first came in 2007, when he contacted the Innocence Project, a legal group that focuses on wrongful convictions. The group, after determining all the physical evidence had already been destroyed, asked the high-powered law firm of WilmerHale to handle the case on a pro bono basis.
Ross E. Firsenbaum, a senior associate, said the firm’s lawyers had spent 2,500 hours — worth $950,000 at customary rates — on the case, the kind of representation almost never available to indigent convicts.
Will Bozella file a wrongful imprisonment lawsuit — perhaps represented by Wilmer, on a contingency basis? It could yield up a nice chunk of change (to make up for the nearly $1 million in non-billable work). Given all the firm has done for him, Bozella certainly owes WH a debt of gratitude.
Anyway, it’s a remarkable case. Read more about the victory in the NYT and Am Law Daily.
Such success is not entirely surprising. Although WilmerHale has one of the country’s top appellate practices, WH lawyers know their way around the trial court too. As noted in the firm’s ATL Career Center profile,”[t]he firm is known for its litigation expertise, as well as its regulatory practice and Beltway connections.”
Meanwhile, in other firm news, we got our hands on the WilmerHale warning memo that we mentioned earlier this month. Truth be told, it’s a little disappointing — not nearly as scary as we were led to believe.
We were expecting associates to be threatened with 26 years of imprisonment (or doc review) for leaking firm information to ATL. Or maybe waterboarding by Bill and Bill. But the actual memo is not unreasonable and fairly tame, guilt-tripping rather than menacing.
Check it out, along with some cautionary words for law firms thinking of clamping down on leakers, after the jump.
If you’re at a law firm thinking about swearing your employees to secrecy regarding their workplace conditions, proceed with caution. A reader advises us:
[I]t might be useful to note that, if the firm has put a blanket prohibition on associates discussing their working conditions, they’ve clearly violated federal law — namely, Section 8(a)(1) of the National Labor Relations Act, 29 USC 158(a)(1). See Cintas Corp. v. NLRB, 482 F.3d 463 (D.C. Cir. 2007) (“confidentiality” rule that could be viewed as banning discussion of working conditions violates §8(a)(1)); Stanford Hosp. & Clinics v. NLRB, 325 F.3d 334 (D.C. Cir. 2003) (same w/r/t rule that banned discussion of working conditions with non-employees); Brockton Hosp. v. NLRB, 294 F.3d 100 (D.C. Cir. 2002) (same w/r/t rule that banned discussions of working conditions with other employees).
This is also true with respect to compensation matters — a subject of keen interest to ATL readers, especially around bonus time. From a second reader, a labor and employment lawyer (not at WilmerHale):
FYI: to the extent WilmerHale precludes the ability of associates to discuss compensation information, it may be a violation of Title VII and/or the Equal Pay Act (and possible state and local equivalents). The ability of an employee to discuss and learn about compensation issues, which allows a potential claimant to discover what others are earning and if their jobs and compensation are essentially similar so as to qualify for “equal pay” under the statute (or if illegal discrimination occurred), is an essential need…. It can also be viewed as illegal retaliation if a policy was implemented after the fact, e.g., after someone cooperated with an investigation.
So feel free to email us with your bonus information. If the powers-that-be threaten you for disclosing bonus info, they might be running afoul of labor and employment law (and perhaps antitrust law too, depending on how the threat is communicated).
Now let’s turn to the WilmerHale memo. We’ve reprinted it in full below, and we welcome your analysis of it in the comments. Here’s the money quote:
We each have an obligation to the institution of WilmerHale, and we each have an obligation to protect the confidentiality of information provided to us. That this is true has been obvious to many. We hope it will be for all.
This language attempts to invoke a sense of firm loyalty to protect
excessive secrecy confidentiality. We’ve heard this sentiment before. At one conference we spoke at, an irate law firm partner asked: “Why do our associates send you information? Where is their sense of loyalty?
Good question. We don’t torture our tipsters to get info out of them. We don’t pay for news tips. We don’t sleep with our sources — at least not in a “quid pro quo” way. (Yours truly and Kash sometimes date ATL readers, but not to get tips from them; Elie is married.)
Our sources come to us of their own free will. They often provide us with information because they believe that their firms were disloyal to them first, and they want to share their side of the story.
Take the case of WilmerHale. A number of our sources are individuals who feel that they (or their friends) have been treated unfairly by the firm. A common complaint is that good lawyers are being “transitioned” out of the firm based on dubious performance reviews. The affected individuals, not surprisingly, want the world to know that they aren’t bad lawyers — just unlucky. Cf. Shinyung Oh.
Had WilmerHale told the dismissed individuals something like “you’re talented attorneys, but due to the tough economy (and/or the inability of our partners to generate sufficient business), we can’t afford to keep you,” would these lawyers have felt as wronged? Would they have been as eager to air their grievances — and clear themselves of allegations of professional weakness — in these pages?
When it comes to relationships between associates and their law firms, who broke the social compact first? It’s an open question.
WILMERHALE — MEMORANDUM — CONFIDENTIALITY
Each year, we present a “State of the Firm” to all
lawyers and staff in which we describe our financial performance, our
progress against our plans and our goals for the next year. We then
provide monthly updates to the partners and counsel and meet with
associates in smaller groups and collectively for the same purpose. As
we have said during these presentations, we believe it is important
that the larger firm community knows how we are doing and where we are
going. We have chosen to communicate much more financial and strategic
information than do many other firms for just this reason. And, while
much of this information is confidential, we have always trusted the
firm community to treat it as such.
We regularly communicate with associates through the Associate
Communication Task Forces. These groups of elected associates meet
regularly with management to ensure an open and candid exchange of
information. The meetings not only allow management to provide
information on the progress of the firm and other initiatives, but,
more importantly, allow the associate representatives to ask any
question they have. The results of the meetings are reduced to notes
that are then circulated to all associates in the relevant office or
group. Of course, these notes often contain confidential information.
But, again, we have always trusted in our community members to act in
the best interests of the firm.
Recently, and for the first time, someone at the firm decided to
forward the notes to the outside media, which published them. This
clearly was not what we intended or expected. The notes were and are
written for those who are part of the firm today and who understand
the content of the notes in light of their experiences on a daily
basis at the firm. The minutes are also direct and candid, as you
would expect a confidential document to be. Without context, the notes
have much less meaning, and there is little benefit that could ever
result from such a breach of confidentiality.
We continue to believe that we must and should communicate broadly
with the firm community. And, we will. We also recognize that, with
near unanimity, you each have respected our commitment to the
confidentiality of firm business and matters. This recent event,
however, leads us to reiterate what almost everyone knows. We each
have an obligation to the institution of WilmerHale, and we each have
an obligation to protect the confidentiality of information provided
to us. That this is true has been obvious to many. We hope it will be
Unyielding in His Innocence, Now a Free Man [New York Times]
Wilmer Wins Release of Client Wrongfully Imprisoned for 26 Years [Am Law Daily]
Earlier: WilmerHale Warns Associates Against Talking to ATL — But Has It Worked?
Departures from WilmerHale: An Interesting Internal Memo
Summer Offer Rate Open Thread: Here Come The No Offers