Biglaw, Headhunters / Recruiters, Lateral Moves, Litigators, Partner Issues

Davis Polk Takes The Gloves Off In Fight With Legal Recruiter

Davis Polk: no more Mr. Nice Guy.

Some things haven’t changed at Davis Polk. The genteel, uber-WASPy firm is still a student favorite during on-campus interview season. Perhaps this is because it still puts on a great summer associate program.

At more senior levels, however, Davis Polk is evolving. Under managing partner Tom Reid, the firm is increasingly focused on the bottom line. It’s adding lateral partner talent, which it historically hasn’t done very often, and it’s asking more from its existing partners in terms of business development (and subjecting some less productive partners to, shall we say, heightened scrutiny). It’s offering buyouts — rather generous ones, it should be noted — to reduce the ranks of support staff (and the associated expenses).

The old Davis Polk, prioritizing prettiness and peacefulness over profits, might have quickly and quietly settled a lawsuit with a recruiter, without regard to the legal merits, just to avoid the ugliness. The new Davis Polk, in contrast, won’t go down without a fight….

We noted the filing of recruiter Alan Metz’s lawsuit against Davis Polk, seeking a $1.4 million commission relating to DPW’s hiring of Hong Kong litigator Martin Rogers, last month (sixth item). Now we have Davis Polk’s response, as covered by Am Law Daily (via Morning Docket):

The recruiter, New York-based Alan Metz, claims in his suit that six months after Davis Polk’s Hong Kong office head, William Barron, rebuffed his call suggesting that he speak to “the head of the largest and highest quality litigation practice in Hong Kong,” the lawyer about whom Metz was calling, Martin Rogers, moved to Davis Polk from Clifford Chance along with 17 other lawyers. Metz concedes that even though he never named Rogers in either his initial phone call or a subsequent email to Barron, “it was obvious” who he had in mind because of what he refers to as Hong Kong’s “close-knit” legal community.

In a 21-page motion to dismiss Metz’s complaint, filed Friday, Davis Polk argues that “offering a benefit is not the same thing as providing that benefit,” and that making one cold call and sending one unsolicited email that received no reply do not qualify Metz for a referral fee. The firm does not contest that Metz made contact with Barron, whom both sides say told Metz in June 2012 that the firm was not interested in hiring at the time. Six months later, Davis Polk announced that it hired Rogers, noting in a press release touting the litigator’s arrival that the firm had recently worked alongside him in its representation of Hong Kong financial institutions.

Davis Polk is represented in the case by William Gyves of Epstein Becker & Green; Metz is represented by Paul Wexler of Kornstein Veisz Wexler & Pollard. Here is the core of DPW’s argument:

“Metz’s claim that he is entitled to a $1.4 million fee when the firm did not request or induce any action by him, much less accept his offer of recruiting services that he never provided, fails both as a matter of law and common sense,” Davis Polk writes in its motion, which seeks to dismiss Metz’s claims of quantum merit [sic] and unjust enrichment and argues that the case should be filed in Hong Kong rather than New York.

Rogers supports his new employer’s version of events. He filed an affidavit stating that he got to know Davis Polk better in spring 2012, when he started working on a case with DPW corporate partner Bonnie Chan. He and Chan eventually “raised the possibility of my joining Davis Polk’s Hong Kong office,” which led to his moving to DPW, announced by the firm in December 2012.

We have many legal recruiters among our readers (and our advertisers; thanks for your support). So here are some questions for the community of legal search consultants: Could Alan Metz have done more to protect himself and his interests regarding the move of Martin Rogers from Clifford Chance to Davis Polk? How would you have handled this situation if you had been in Metz’s shoes? Or was there really nothing to be done here?

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments, email us, or text us (646-820-8477). Thanks.

Davis Polk Fights Recruiter Suing for $1.4 Million Fee [Am Law Daily via Morning Docket]

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