Biglaw, Email Scandals, Partner Issues, Reader Polls, Rudeness, Ted Frank

In Defense Of The Kirkland Partner’s Controversial Email

How our original tipsters felt.

Yesterday we shared with you a controversial firm-wide email sent by a fairly senior partner at Kirkland & Ellis. After receiving too many “requests for information” that he viewed as a waste of his (and everyone else’s) valuable time, corporate partner Kenneth Morrison fired off a firm-wide response that made fun of three offending messages and offered guidance for future RFIs.

The K&E sources who shared Morrison’s message with us disapproved of it. They viewed it as a share partner essentially engaged in cyberbullying of junior colleagues, publicly humiliating them before the entire firm.

But some folks disagreed — including, for example, many commenters on yesterday’s story. And since then, we’ve heard directly from multiple people, both at Kirkland and outside of it, who support Ken Morrison’s email. Let’s hear what the members of #TeamMorrison have to say, shall we?

By the way, for those of you who are wondering (like some commenters on the original post), we did reach out to Kenneth Morrison for comment. We didn’t hear back from him, but we did hear from fellow Chicago partner Gerald Nowak, who offered this defense of Morrison (for attribution; our default is anonymous use of anything sent to us, but Nowak kindly agreed to go on the record):

Please add my name to the list of Ken Morrison defenders. While I can appreciate the reaction to Ken’s e mail in a vacuum, there are two things that you must know (and apparently some of my younger colleagues do not know) about Ken in order to understand the message:

1. Ken is universally known (among those who know him, which is of course an issue at a large firm like Kirkland), as literally the nicest guy you could or would ever choose to meet. Suffice it to say that he is, quite literally, a boy scout, having spent probably 10 years or more as the scoutmaster of a local boy scout troop. There is simply not an @&&holish bone in his body.

2. More importantly, Ken is also universally known (among those of us old enough to remember), as a purveyor of memos or e mails that are seemingly serious, yet completely (or almost completely) in jest. For example, he wrote a memo (remember those?) probably 25 years ago (before I was at the firm) about upcoming cost cutting measures, including a list of things that were unthinkable at the time, like attorneys flying coach (but of course, many of which, not just the coach tickets, have subsequently come true). Ken has also served for many years as the unofficial humorous reminderer of how not to use e mail lists. This e mail was most definitely in keeping with that tradition.

I’m sad to hear that a few of us here at Kirkland did not get the joke. I can assure you that many more of us did and got a good laugh.

Before you dismiss these views as just partners circling the wagons, here is what a current Kirkland associate shared with me:

The silent majority of Kirkland associates (i.e., the ones who didn’t angrily forward you Ken’s email) found the email hilarious and didn’t think it was meant to be mean-spirited. The firm-wide spam gets really annoying, so it was good to see someone call out the spammers in comic fashion.

Perhaps this current K&E associate has been drinking too much of the Kirkland Kool-Aid (spiked generously with above-market bonuses), you might say. But the supportive comments for Ken Morrison are echoed even by former Kirkland associates:

On a few occasions, Ken Morrison was involved in things I worked on. The email is pretty consistent with his general wit, from what I remember of him. I didn’t read the email as rude or shaming, though that might be because I’ve interacted with the guy before. As Kirkland partners go, he was definitely not considered one of the mean ones while I was there.

I actually thought he was a really nice guy. He’s a little bit stilted in some ways, but I always found him much more pleasant and reasonable (and responsive) than other senior share partners. I was a junior associate, and his level of responsiveness to someone in my position is really unusual.

Even people with no connection to Kirkland or personal acquaintance with Ken Morrison, viewing his message in a vacuum, found the email appropriate. Here is what former K&E associate Ted Frank, aka the Class Action Avenger, had to say:

A dumb “attorneys all” request to a 1200-attorney firm costs $5000 of billable time even if the average response is 30 seconds to read and delete. If Morrison’s spending 30 minutes to draft an email to stop dumb attorneys-all requests eliminates an average of one such dumb request a workday for a year, he’s made the firm a million dollars. Hero.

Personally speaking, I fall somewhere in between the “hero” and “villain” camps. Morrison had a valid point to make, and he made it in funny fashion. Many firm-wide are completely inappropriate — e.g., this one (“I am no longer comfortable working for a group largely populated by gossips, backstabbers and Napoleonic personalities…. I would rather be dressed up like a pinata and beaten than remain with this group any longer.”).

But it probably wasn’t necessary for Morrison to call out junior colleagues, especially the two associates, so specifically and so publicly. He could simply have sent out a paragraph or two telling people to think carefully before firing out an RFI to the entire firm (as opposed to a smaller subset of relevant attorneys), followed by his (admittedly hilarious) top 10 firm-wide RFIs list.

That’s just my view. What do you think? Take our reader poll:

On a scale of 1 to 5, how do you feel about the Kirkland partner's email?

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Earlier: Did This Biglaw Partner Act Like A Big Tool? Let’s Discuss
When It’s Okay To Send a Firm-Wide Email

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