Bad Ideas, Biglaw, Cellphones, Partner Issues, Rudeness

Acela Bob, Meet Acela Jim: Kelley Drye Managing Partner Conducts Confidential Conversation on Packed Train

It's a train car, not a conference room.

Here at Above the Law, we’re trying to help you. We write about lawyers who do embarrassing things so that you can learn from their examples. Heck, you should get ethics CLE credit for reading this site.

One of our most widely-used lessons — now part of new employee training at a Wall Street firm, in fact — is the cautionary tale of Acela Bob. Pillsbury Winthrop partner Robert Robbins conducted what should have been a confidential conversation about impending layoffs at his firm — in a loud voice, using his cellphone bluetooth, on a crowded Acela train. An ATL reader heard the whole thing and tipped us off; we wrote it up. Shortly thereafter, Pillsbury — which had not yet admitted to any layoffs — confessed that cuts were coming (and “apologize[d] for the unfortunate manner in which our deliberations about reductions have become public”).

Here’s one lawyer who apparently never heard about Acela Bob, or perhaps forgot the story: James J. Kirk (no relation to Captain James T. Kirk).

This James Kirk is the managing partner of Kelley Drye & Warren — and a man who has no trouble making himself heard….

Last Friday, January 7, James Kirk was on the D.C. to New York Acela train (business first class, of course; he is a managing partner). The train car was packed, with not one empty seat.

(Wait a sec — James Kirk was on the Acela? Obviously the transporter was malfunctioning.)

James J. Kirk

Even on the super-fast Acela, the ride still takes a few hours. So Kirk decided to make some business calls from the train — using his cellphone, and speaking loudly enough so that multiple people in the train car could hear him.

An Above the Law reader (who doubles as a Klingon spy) overheard James Kirk’s conversations in their entirety — and described them to us in detail. Kirk’s first call was to a fairly young partner at a litigation boutique in New York. Our tipster actually gave us this partner’s full name, but since he’s an innocent party — a victim rather than a perpetrator of the confidentiality breach, who might not have told his current firm of his departure plans — we’ll keep him anonymous.

Jim Kirk called this young partner to make him an offer to join Kelley Drye as a non-equity partner. Here are the terms of the offer, as heard by our source:

1. Base compensation: $300K in the first year.

2. Additional compensation: $50K upon bringing in $1MM; 15 percent of anything over $1MM.

3. Equity: Possible equity in the partnership after one year.

(Not bad — and that was just the offer. We don’t know if it was accepted; it’s quite possible that negotiations are still ongoing. In case you’d like to compare yourself to the offeree and assess your market value, he graduated from a top law school about a decade ago, clerked for a federal judge, and worked in Biglaw before joining a litigation boutique, where he’s currently a partner. He handles complex commercial litigation, securities cases, and internal investigations.)

After communicating the offer, Kirk told the young partner that he’d “work on finalizing the offer over the weekend” and “should have everything complete within 10 days.”

Kirk concluded the call to the offeree and then phoned a human resources employee back at Kelley Drye & Warren. He provided the young partner’s name and home address — which our reader also heard and took down, thanks to Kirk’s loud and clear speaking voice — and directed the KDW employee to “start the background check.” (Again, we are withholding the young partner’s home address, since it’s not his fault that James Kirk was so indiscreet.)

Without names, Kirk’s conversation might not have been that bad. But Kirk let it all hang out: firm names, individual names, and even the young partner’s home address. Our horrified tipster summed it up nicely: “Ridiculous over-sharing in a public place.”

But let’s say James Kirk hadn’t mentioned his own name, his firm name, or the name and home address of the young partner. Could some of the details have been figured out after the fact?

Quite possibly — since, just like the Alston & Bird associate who left behind her business card after ticking off a bartender on New Year’s, James Kirk left his Amtrak ticket stub on his seat (where it was retrieved by the ATL reader / Klingon spy):

James Kirk's Acela ticket stub (click to enlarge).

The other James Kirk. Loose lips sink (star)ships?

This is really a lesson about the importance of diversity in law firms. If James Kirk had a Vulcan partner, he might have learned that it is illogical to conduct sensitive business on a crowded train.

So law firm partners, repeat after me: “I will not discuss confidential matters, using my cellphone and speaking in a loud voice, on the D.C. to New York Acela train.”

Got it? Good — ’cause we’re tired of telling the same story over and over again. Next time you commit an indiscretion, please let it involve a stuck elevator, two people from the Help Desk, and copious amounts of half-melted dulce de leche ice cream. Thanks.

P.S. We reached out to James Kirk and to a Kelley Drye spokesperson yesterday morning. Neither has gotten back to us as of the time of this posting.

Earlier: Associates: Try Not to Leave Behind Evidence of New Year’s Debauchery
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to New York (Or: Pillsbury associates, brace yourselves.)
Pillsbury Admits Gaffe — and Looming Lawyer Layoffs

(hidden for your protection)

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