Legal secretaries and other support staffers aren’t the only folks getting exiled from Biglaw. Partners who lie on their résumés are getting shown the door too.
In the prestige-soaked precincts of Biglaw, the pressure to inflate one’s credentials is understandable. Once you’re above a certain threshold, the quality of legal work can be hard to judge. In other fields of endeavor, you either can do it or you can’t — write code for a specific program, execute a triple Lutz, surgically reattach a severed hand (my dad can do this, in case you ever need his services).
In law, many people can write a brief or negotiate a contract. It then becomes a matter of how well you can do these things — and pedigree inevitably colors the evaluation of the legal services rendered.
In light of all this, a lawyer’s lying on his CV might be understandable — but it’s still a firing offense. A Biglaw partner learned this lesson the hard way….
Dennis O’Riordan was suspended for three years by the Bar Tribunals and Disciplinary Service for lying on his CV and on his former chambers’ websites and professional profiles. He had claimed that he had been to school at Radley, taken an undergraduate degree and then a doctorate at Balliol Oxford, had been an Eldon Scholar and had also gone to Harvard. He also said that he was a member of the New York Bar and the Irish Bar. All jolly impressive but, unfortunately, all lies.
O’Riordan has enjoyed a high-powered career. [Until] he was shown the door, he was a special consultant at Paul Hastings’ London office and from 2009 until last year he was a partner at the firm. Before that he was a partner at Cadwalader, Group Counsel for Nomura, General Counsel for Sumitomo Finance and Head of Legal and Tax at the London branch of the Republic National Bank of New York. Almost unbelievably, not one of them smelt a rat. It seems he was only rumbled when he applied for a new job with an unidentified chambers.
We reached out to Paul Hastings for comment. The firm issued the following statement (similar to what they previously shared with Roll On Friday): “We learned last Wednesday that a consultant to the London office, Tom O’Riordan, has, in the past, exaggerated his academic qualifications. Mr. O’Riordan is a barrister and his professional body, the Bar Standards Board, has successfully brought disciplinary proceedings against him. Mr. O’ Riordan left the firm last Wednesday with immediate effect.”
It’s fair to say that he “exaggerated” his qualifications; for the record, this wasn’t a Catch Me If You Can situation, with someone pretending to be a lawyer when he wasn’t. O’Riordan was subject to discipline by the Bar Standards Board because he was, in fact, a member of the bar. It appears he studied law at the University of East Anglia and was called to the bar by Inner Temple in 1993.
Vivia Chen offers an interesting take on the episode over at The Careerist:
So what set O’Riordan on the road to deception? I can’t give you a psychological explanation, but let me offer a simplistic guess: He was giving elite law firms what they wanted — a candidate with the right pedigree. As we all know, those are clubby worlds — and it’s hard to gain entry unless you wear the right school ties. And O’Riordan was clever enough to pick two schools (Oxford and Harvard) that would put him on top of the “must-have” list for legal employers.
(Although that could have been dangerous too — if someone from Oxford or Harvard played the “name game” with O’Riordan and couldn’t find any common connections, that person might have grown suspicious. It’s not clear who blew the whistle on him to the disciplinary authorities, but it might have been an Oxford or Harvard grad who tried to look up in the alumni database without success.)
Back to Vivia Chen:
But here’s the twist in this whole twisted tale: Despite the fake credentials, O’Riordan was apparently a genuinely competent lawyer. RollOnFriday calls him “one of the top lawyers in the City,” while The Lawyer reports that he was “well-liked” and “a key figure in London.”
…. The irony, of course, is that he was a perfectly decent lawyer, and those fancy degrees were meaningless ornaments. But he probably feared—perhaps correctly — that his resume might not have made it to the top of the heap without them. Ah, the vanity of the legal profession and its obsession with credentials!
Writes Vivia Chen, a graduate of Williams College and NYU Law School.
Here’s a twist to the twist: How much do we truly know about O’Riordan’s lawyering skills, and how much of his reputation reflected his fabricated educational credentials?
It’s interesting to note that many of our nation’s leading trial lawyers — not litigators but trial lawyers, people who go to trial frequently, not just once a year — did not graduate from elite law schools. In this sense, maybe trying a case to a jury is like brain surgery: in this high-stakes process, people don’t care where you got your degree; they just need a great result.
The Talented Mr. O’Riordan [The Careerist]
Exclusive: Paul Hastings partner sacked for massive CV lies [Roll On Friday]
Top litigator quits Paul Hastings after falsifying degrees from Harvard and Oxford [The Lawyer]