Biglaw, Lateral Moves, Litigators, Musical Chairs, Partner Issues, Vicious Infighting, William Burck

Mean Weil? There’s Another Side To This Story….

As both trial lawyers and journalists well know, there are (easily more than) two sides to every story. The same underlying events can give rise to completely different narratives, depending on whom you talk to.

Is a mother who takes her own life and almost takes that of her child deserving of condemnation or sympathy? Are two law students accused of killing a bird a pair of “sick individuals,” or two basically good guys who just had a bad night?

Yesterday we wrote about Weil Gotshal’s reaction to losing two litigation partners to Quinn Emanuel in D.C. Since our story was published, we’ve heard from multiple sources who vigorously dispute our prior tipsters’ version of events….

You should read our earlier story if you haven’t done so already, but here’s the upshot of it:

  • Two litigation partners in the D.C. office of Weil Gotshal, Michael Lyle and Eric Lyttle, have left the firm. They plan to join Quinn Emanuel.
  • Lyle served as managing partner for the office; he’s being replaced in that role by Steven Tyrrell.
  • The executive partner of Weil, Barry Wolf, came down from New York to Washington and held a town hall meeting where he announced the departures and “trashed Mike and Eric as disloyal,” in the words of our prior source.
  • There’s a lot of awkwardness in the office right now, and “morale is very low.”
  • Weil is not releasing Lyle and Lyttle from the partnership, instead holding them to the (seldom enforced) notice requirements of the partnership agreement — which explains why they have no start date at Quinn yet and why their bios are still on the Weil website (here and here).

In the comments to the post, one reader posted the following:

This really seems like a non-story based on one source in the Weil DC office. Don’t think it’s a big deal for a managing partner to head down to DC from NYC for something like this. Know Barry from a bunch of years spent at Weil — calm and pleasant guy, and lawyers there with good judgement thought he had great judgement. So give him the benefit of the doubt and suspect there’s more to what happened.

We spoke by phone with a few Weil sources yesterday, and they agree that “there’s more to what happened.” They strongly object to any suggestion that Weil or its managing partner, Barry Wolf, acted in a mean or petty way towards the departing partners. These sources view the departures of Michael Lyle and Eric Lyttle as a non-event — or possibly even helpful to the firm, if Lyle is replaced by a more engaged managing partner.

We’ve grouped these sources’ comments under different topics. They corroborate each other for the most part, with a few exceptions (e.g., the extent of Michael Lyle’s portable book of business).

What do you make of Mike Lyle and Eric Lyttle’s departures? How will their leaving affect the firm?

  • “Mike and Eric are very good attorneys and dynamic people, and I wish them the best at Quinn. But as a general point, here in the office, most people have reacted to their departures as a non-issue. It’s unusual, and it’s not great press to lose our office managing partner. But nobody is panicking, except for people who relied on Mike and to a lesser extent on Eric for work. This is not a big deal.”
  • “Most of our work down here is not primarily what Mike does. Mike does products [liability], while we have a whole general commercial litigation group. His practice didn’t make up a big part of the office’s business.”
  • “Mike has one large client that has historically generated a lot of business. I don’t know if that client will move with him. Eric is junior; he just made partner last year. He’s a nice guy and a very good lawyer, but junior partners at a place like Weil don’t generate lots of business on their own.”
  • “People absolutely loved the two of them. Half the office worked with them. They had a big book of business.”
  • “Mike and Eric were far from the most popular people in the office outside of their immediate group. [As for his book of business,] Mike worked mainly on two matters and they will not go away. Those clients are tied to Weil and have been for many years.”

What were your thoughts on Barry Wolf coming down from New York to D.C.? And on the meeting that he conducted about the departures?

  • “Again, not a big deal. Barry takes lots of trips to regional offices. He’s a great guy, very low-key. He visits the D.C. office a lot — he was here a couple of weeks ago just for a dinner. When he visits, it’s very common for him to go around and talk to the people.”
  • “I went to the meeting. Barry clearly was not happy about the news, but he absolutely did not trash Mike or Eric. He wishes them well. It’s not what Weil wanted — Mike was an important part of the group — but it’s not an ugly or awkward situation.”
  • “The meeting was completely professional and forward-looking, Barry came down to reassure everyone that the office had the full support of New York during the transition. He just wanted to answer any questions or concerns people might have had.”

How would you describe morale in the D.C. office right now? And what your thoughts on office leadership?

  • “I would kind of agree that morale may not be super-high, but part of that may be due to Mike’s leadership. He traveled a lot and was pretty active on his cases. The previous managing partner, David Berz, was all about firm unity and office-wide activities. David really connected with and reached out to people. He was a schmoozer — he made everyone comfortable and was very inclusive — and he had been managing partner for a while. When they made the change to Mike, that changed things. There hasn’t been the same sense that we’re all part of one cohesive group. Mike hasn’t paid as much attention to management as David. David would work around, talk to people, ask about your kids, and make you feel like part of the team. Mike was very personable, but more disengaged. So I think some people are looking forward to a change in management.”
  • “Mike was pretty uninvolved with everyone. He was more focused on his ambitions of achieving leadership positions in the firm. It doesn’t make sense that Weil fought to keep Mike. [His leaving] was more likely an internal power struggle, as Weil reorganizes its leadership.”
  • “Morale is fine. Everyone is looking forward to a new era. Morale was low because of Mike’s leadership. Steve [Tyrrell] is very well-liked and a good guy.”

UPDATE (3:50 p.m.): A Team Lyle tipster tells us, “It’s interesting that some are disparaging his leadership, when just last week they asked him to be co-head of litigation firm-wide to get him to stay.”

So there you have it: another side to the Weil Gotshal/Quinn Emanuel story, according to multiple Weil sources. We also reached out to Mike Lyle himself, but he did not get back to us.

One commenter on yesterday’s post situated these departures in broader context: “There’s a ton of bad blood between Weil and Quinn Emanuel. Weil is representing Apple in the smartphone wars, QE has the Android side.”

The talent wars could also be contributing to the tension. As Am Law Daily noted in its write-up of the Lyle and Lyttle defections, this isn’t the first time Quinn has raided Weil for talent. For example, back in 2012, Quinn snagged William Burck, a former Supreme Court clerk and deputy White House counsel, from Weil. According to Am Law, Bill Burck took the lead in recruiting Lyle and Lyttle to Quinn.

We love ourselves a Biglaw battle royale. If this Weil/Quinn spat turns into the law firm version of the Hatfields and the McCoys, we’ll be there to cover every last salvo.

Quinn Emanuel Hires Again From Weil in D.C. [Am Law Daily]

Earlier: Quinn Emanuel Snags Two Weil Gotshal Partners — and Weil Is Not Happy About It

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