Biglaw, Email Scandals, Partner Issues, Rudeness

Did This Biglaw Partner Act Like A Big Tool? Let’s Discuss

When it comes to annoying emails, deletion is often the better part of valor. Some irritating emails, such as ones from opposing counsel or clients, might require a response. But if you receive an annoying email that does not require a response, don’t respond. Simply delete (or archive) the offending message.

There’s no need to be a hero. There’s no need to publicly call out the sender for being annoying. If you have a burning desire to complain, shoot the sender a private email.

But look, this is just my personal opinion. One equity partner at a super-elite law firm apparently disagrees. After receiving three annoying firm-wide emails, he sent a firm-wide response aimed at chastising and humiliating the senders. In the end, though, he may have humiliated himself most of all….

(Please note the UPDATES below; the partner in question has his defenders.)

Several sources shared with us a remarkable email from Kenneth Morrison, partner in charge of the asset finance and securitization practice of Kirkland & Ellis. They were not fans. “Kirkland partner shows his true a**hole colors,” one tipster told us. “Completely inappropriate,” said a second source.

Here’s the background. After receiving three firm-wide requests for information — from colleagues we’ll call “D.C. Associate,” “California Of Counsel,” and “London Associate” — Ken Morrison sent a bitingly sarcastic response directly to the three offenders, and cc’d the entire firm. His email begins:

Wow! What a morning. Within an hour of arriving in the office, I had been personally solicited (along with every other attorney in the Firm) via RFIs for 3 topics about which it is clear that all of us needed to be solicited:

– transferring a trademark
– avoiding customs requirements
– lawyering up for a frivolous litigation matter in New Jersey

It is, of course, quite appropriate to check in with everyone in the Firm, because we are all very eager to help each other. I suppose this is the embodiment of the platitudes that we heard at the share partner meeting last weekend, where so many of our recent lateral hires from Simpson, Thacher (a/k/a “Kirkland’s AAA farm club”, though I can never remember whether it is “Thacher” or “Thatcher”) kept expressing the view that people at Kirkland could not be more welcoming or willing to pitch in. Now those laterals are getting a chance to see just how often we want them to pitch in, even if they probably know nothing about a subject!

Yes, it’s annoying when your inbox gets clogged with requests for information or referrals that you’re not in a position to answer. But that’s what the delete key is for. Presumably someone smart enough to make partner — share partner, in case you’re wondering — knows how to press the delete key. Or has a secretary — yes, they still exist, despite all the layoffs — who can help out in that regard.

(I must confess: I chuckled at the snide reference to Simpson as “Kirkland’s AAA farm club.” Some of the STB players brought up to the K&E major leagues include Andrew Calder and Sean Rodgers.)

What should the offenders have done instead? Here is Kenneth Morrison’s advice:

Personally, I would have been inclined to send these RFIs to smaller groups of people:

>> Trademarks. I did a quick Google search, and I learned from that search that a trademark is a kind of “intellectual property.” Fascinating! Then I looked on, and to my amazement found that we have an “Intellectual Property” practice. Amazing! Then I fooled around by putting “#FW Intell” into the “To” line on my email, and found out that there were many different email distribution lists for Intellectual Property lawyers, even including a list of lawyers who just practice “Transactional” intellectual property law. Truly unbelievable!

Almost as unbelievable as Morrison taking the (billable) time to compose this message. But we digress.

>> Customs Requirements. Is it just me, or is there a flavor to the RFI on this topic that the “travelers from Germany” who are soliciting this advice have some possibly inappropriate motives? No doubt I am leaping to inappropriate conclusions, but I’m just wanting to give the best advice possible. Anyway, I went back to the Kirkland website and did a search for “customs,” and it gave me 27 results. Awesome! I even found out that we have an International Trade practice, and the practice description uses the word “customs” 12 times. Maybe those lawyers would be helpful on this topic? But, then again, I’m probably thinking too parochially. Having heard Andy Calder’s Scottish brogue several times last weekend, I have made the brilliant deduction that he has gone through U.S. Customs at least once in his life — so we definitely want his view. (Indeed, if Scotland votes to secede from the United Kingdom later this year, Andy might even be wanting some of this advice himself, in case he has assets in Scotland that he thinks might not be quite so secure post-secession.) That’s the beauty of using #FW Attorneys.

Ah yes, #FW Attorneys — the same distribution list being used by Morrison here. His message reminds me of when someone receives a spam message and hits “reply all” when trying to unsubscribe, thereby increasing the amount of unwanted email in everyone’s inboxes.

>> Frivolous NJ Litigation. Just offhand, I would think that Kirkland might have a few attorneys who would be interested in defending a client against a $100 million claim. And, given that we have a New York office, I bet we even have some attorneys who live in New Jersey! (Just in case the sender of the message (who is in our London office) doesn’t know this, New Jersey is right next to New York — but, then, the sender is admitted in New York, so he probably does know that.) As the London office is largely oriented toward transactional work, I will point out for the benefit of our London colleague that we have lots and lots of litigators in the U.S. Maybe a list like “#NY Litigation Attorneys” would be a useful place to start . . .

Personally, I would have been inclined to send this nastygram to a smaller group of people (namely, via individual emails to the three lawyers). But that wouldn’t have been as fun as cc’ing the entire firm.

And it seems like Ken Morrison wanted to make a point. One wonders whether he doesn’t like the “kinder, gentler” Kirkland, and misses the Kirkland of old — the legendarily nasty place fueled by ambition, greed, and fear. His message continues:

But I realize that I am not thinking like a team player when I suggest using a more tailored distribution list for an RFI. That just leaves out so many people who want to be part of each and every team here. I believe that the Firm Committee (which seems to have morphed into the “Firmwide Global Executive Management & Strategery Committee” somewhere along the way, according to slide decks at the share partner meeting) has devoted innumerable hours to making Kirkland into a more co-operative place. Not only do we need to avoid saying things like, “Kirkland is a firm of wolves in wolves’ clothing” (E.N., circa 1986), but we need to work hard to find ways to utilize each other’s considerable talents and to share resources.

After a digression about efficiency and his Scottish heritage (which he uses to make an arguably politically incorrect joke about Scots being cheap), he concludes with a top 10 list:

The Top 10 Things That Would Otherwise Be in the Next Firmwide RFIs

10. Have you ever moved to vacate an arbitration award?

9. Precedent for a “motion to dismiss” is hereby requested.

8. Does anyone know a good divorce attorney any place in the world?

7. Has anyone ever taken a deposition somewhere?

6. Can you recommend a criminal lawyer in any city in the U.S. for a “friend of the firm”?

5. Do you have a contact at any company anywhere?

4. Whether or not you went to Yale Law School, would you like to make a contribution to it?

3. Does anyone know what is meant by a “reasonably priced attorney”?

2. Would you like to buy a chalk-stripe suit where the chalk stripes actually say “Kirkland & Ellis”?

1. Does anyone have precedent for a contract?

(Astute readers with long memories will recognize that two of the items on this list were actual RFIs to #FW Attorneys. Can you tell which ones?)

Let’s give credit where credit is due: this is a funny top 10 list. And a fairly accurate one, at least based on my experience with list-servs.

But was it — and, for that matter, the entire message — necessary? Ken Morrison is an equity partner at a top law firm; perhaps he should leave the snark to us. And he directed his ire not at opposing counsel or complete strangers, but colleagues.

(Yes, this may be a sad commentary on “collegiality” within Biglaw. Kirkland has more than a thousand lawyers, so one can understand why a Chicago-based lawyer like Morrison would not view random K&E lawyers in D.C., California, and London as his true “colleagues.”)

Am I being too hard on Kenneth Morrison? Is his message gratuitously mean, or is it warranted public shaming? Is it redeemed by its humor?

UPDATE (3:45 p.m.): Morrison has his defenders, who have praised the message to us as “hilarious and not shaming,” “funny and curmudgeonly,” and a much-needed rebuke to internal spammers within Kirkland. We may have more on this later.

UPDATE (5/16/2014, 2:45 p.m.): Read defenses of Ken Morrison, and take a reader poll, over here.

Flip to the next page to read the complete missive, which helpfully includes the three prior emails being mocked, and decide for yourself….

(hidden for your protection)

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