Biglaw, Labor / Employment, Litigators, Partner Issues, Weirdness

A Partner’s Bizarre Departure Memo


From: Donald Prophete
Date: March 20, 2013, 4:16:27 PM EDT
To: Donald Prophete

On Mar 20, 2013, at 4:03 PM, Donald Prophete wrote:

On Mar 20, 2013, at 3:53 PM, Donald Prophete wrote:

Dear friends and colleagues,

I wanted to contact you to let you know that starting today, I will no longer be with Ogletree. As good friends and clients, I believe that you are owed an explanation concerning the abrupt reason for my departure. While this is a long and entangled story, I will do my best to provide you the readers digest version of the events.

Simply, as both a member of the firm’s executive committee and its Vice President, as well as the largest originator in the firm, I opposed what i believed to be improper conduct by the firm’s leadership, which ultimately led to our separation. In sum, one of the members of my extended team was being harassed and discriminated by the managing shareholder of one of the offices that I supervised. When she brought her concerns to me, I began investigating the managing shareholder’s conduct. My preliminary finding was that this individual managed the office in a tyrannical manner. An even closer look revealed that this same individual had intercepted emails between the complaining shareholder and me in which she discussed her concerns with me. I also discovered that he had attempted to intercept another lawyer’s emails in the same office whom he deemed “disloyal.” He later began to retaliate against the complaining shareholder by excluding her from office decisions, calling her a “thug,” alleging marital infidelities and disparaging her excellent work product and reputation to the office associates.

I brought the matter to the firm’s full executive committee suggesting that this individual was unfit to be a shareholder in our firm, let alone to be office managing shareholder. For economic reasons – and perhaps unstated others – the firm decided to turn a blind eye to this misconduct because it “would not be in the firm’s best interest to risk losing him” and because they did not want to “offend him.” This response was completely unacceptable to me, and I began to vigorously oppose the firm’s laissez-faire attitude towards the complaining shareholder. I asked the executive committee to at a minimum require the individual to step down as managing shareholder and to require him to issue in-person apologies to the complaining shareholder, the office and me. Again, the rest of the executive committee refused to make these simple and appropriate accommodations.

When the firm failed to take appropriate and decent action, I told the rest of the executive committee that I would trigger an expulsion vote of the individual under our firm shareholder agreement, which provided for a special meeting under urgent circumstances. Per the shareholder agreement, I asked the firm to schedule the meeting. I received no responses from the firm. In the interim, appalled by the firm’s inexplicable lack of action, during individual exchanges with the executive committee members, I told the firm that I would resign and take my team if the firm was unwilling to properly remedy the matter. The firm then ceased upon this statement to claim that I posed a danger to the firm’s clients and asked me to leave.

This was the first time in the firm’s history that it had ever asked a shareholder to leave without scheduling the requisite shareholder vote call. The firm refused to hold such a call despite several shareholder requests. Clearly, they did not want to have the matter fully discussed at the membership. At the end of the day, I’m fine with leaving the firm, as I cannot be part of a firm that treats its diverse lawyers the way they treated the complaining shareholder. This is not the same firm that I help build into a national powerhouse over the last 8 years.

Those of you who know me, know that if nothing else I’m principled and very much focused on fairness for all employees. I could have easily turned a blind eye, and all would have been ok. But that’s not who I am, and I hope to never become that person. Frankly, I would do the same thing again today. Which leads us to today. As you might imagine, I have no shortage of suitors desirous of hiring me and my team. I want to take my time and pick the next place carefully. I should be done with my analysis soon. In the interim, my team will continue to handle your matters in the same excellent manner you have been accustomed. I hope to be able to represent you again soon. As you know, my brand of professionalism and service will transcend firms.

Thank you for you ear and have a great day!

i can be reached at [redacted] or [redacted] with questions. Thx


Don Prophete’s letter constitutes an attack on our firm by someone whose larger motives are incomprehensible to us. Two indisputable facts provide critical context: the shareholders of the firm voted overwhelmingly for him to leave, and he never made any allegations of harassment, discrimination, or retaliation prior to his departure. Further, when we learned of his after-the-fact allegations (upon receiving a copy of the email he sent to others, not the firm), a full investigation was conducted and his allegations could not be substantiated.

The fact is that all of this occurred well more than a month ago, and we have moved on. Just six shareholders have chosen to follow Prophete to his next firm, and those that worked with him the longest have chosen to stay with our firm. His departure will have a minimal effect on our firm, its continued success, and its commitment to providing outstanding service to our clients.

In the final analysis, this unfortunate story should not deceive anyone as to the culture of our firm. In fact, our culture has and will remain famously collegial and supportive of diversity at all levels. The numbers speak eloquently: Ogletree Deakins hires a great number of laterals while losing very few shareholders to other firms. We are proud of our reputation for diversity and fairness, which reinforces our sense of ourselves, and our pride in the integrity and humanity of our firm.

Ex-Ogletree VP sends scathing email to clients, colleagues [Thomson Reuters News & Insight]
Littler Attracts Nationally-Recognized Attorney Don Prophete in Kansas City and a Team of Lawyers Across the Firm’s US Offices [Littler Mendelson]

Earlier: Morning Docket: 05.01.13
The 2013 Am Law 100: A Year of ‘Slow Growth’
Morning Docket: 04.04.13

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