It's a train car, not a conference room.

Here at Above the Law, we’re trying to help you. We write about lawyers who do embarrassing things so that you can learn from their examples. Heck, you should get ethics CLE credit for reading this site.

One of our most widely-used lessons — now part of new employee training at a Wall Street firm, in fact — is the cautionary tale of Acela Bob. Pillsbury Winthrop partner Robert Robbins conducted what should have been a confidential conversation about impending layoffs at his firm — in a loud voice, using his cellphone bluetooth, on a crowded Acela train. An ATL reader heard the whole thing and tipped us off; we wrote it up. Shortly thereafter, Pillsbury — which had not yet admitted to any layoffs — confessed that cuts were coming (and “apologize[d] for the unfortunate manner in which our deliberations about reductions have become public”).

Here’s one lawyer who apparently never heard about Acela Bob, or perhaps forgot the story: James J. Kirk (no relation to Captain James T. Kirk).

This James Kirk is the managing partner of Kelley Drye & Warren — and a man who has no trouble making himself heard….

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PASADENA, CA - MAY 04:  A Blackberry Curve 831...

Should police need a warrant to search this?

As a place to live, California has a lot going for it: the Pacific Ocean, pleasant weather, celeb spottings. But if you’re concerned about the police perusing the contents of your smartphone without a warrant, you might prefer to spend your time further east, in the Buckeye State.

The Supreme Courts of California and Ohio have come down on opposite sides of the question of whether police need a warrant to search an arrested person’s cellphone. California may be perceived as the tech-savvy state, thanks to playing host to Silicon Valley, but when it comes to how the law applies to technology, its analysis is rather simplistic. In an opinion issued Monday, California’s court said “no warrant needed,” equating a cell phone with a pack of cigarettes. Hmmmm. Cell phones are addictive, I suppose…

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Ed. note: Have a question for next week? Send it in to [email protected].


Can you please offer your insight into proper etiquette for ring tones in the workplace?  I understand someone may have an affinity for The Jitterbug in their personal life, but when did it become acceptable to leave your cell phone on full volume while in the office knowing that it will go off at least three times each day? I work next to a law clerk whose phone sounds like it’s Mario eating a magic mushroom whenever he receives a message. I’ve asked him to put his phone on vibrate or silent when he comes to work, but it hasn’t sunk in — do I need to pull a Bluto from Animal House and smash his phone to stop the madness?


Dear Gallagher, this question is disturbing on many levels….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Pls Hndle Thx: No Service in the Club”

This is a blind item, since we don’t know the identity of the attorney. Yesterday, this unknown attorney sent an employee a text message. It wasn’t to wish the employee a happy Labor Day. From Reddit:
attorney firing by text message.jpg
“Sexting” was the latest hot cell phone trend. Maybe the new trend will be “diSMSing.”
Dear Reddit. It is 10:40 PM, on a Holiday, and I was just fired via text. [Reddit]

How would you like to be the unofficial mascot for that dubious practice known as “sexting”? From ATL associate editor Kashmir Hill, writing over at True/Slant:

Joanna Argus.jpgEarlier this year, the media went crazy over “sexting.” It has all the elements of a great, salacious, audience-attracting story: flirtation, cell phones, nude photos, and oftentimes, teens….

One of the stations which ran a series of these stories is WLWT in Cincinnati, Ohio. The station repeatedly used a photo of a cell phone with a text to Joanna Argus saying “Hey baby, I got what you want.”

Joanna Argus, an Ohio woman in her late twenties who works as a fundraising consultant, found out about this for the first time when one of her clients called to ask about it. She was shocked, confused, and worried about who else would see it. She complained to the station, and the station’s manager promised it would not happen again. But it did happen again: at least six times over nine months, and was also used as the image for a presentation to a group of high schoolers on the dangers of sexting.

Oy. Argus is now suing the Hearst Corporation, the media conglomerate which owns the television station, for invasion of privacy, defamation, emotional distress, and negligence. (Recent bar exam candidates: feel free to break it down, in the comments.)
We’ll do our part to undo the reputational damage. If you happen to come across her name or photo, or if you meet her in person, please know that poor Joanna Argus has nothing to do with “sexting.”
A reputation nightmare: Becoming the ‘sexting’ mascot [True/Slant]

Acela Business Class Amtrak.jpgTime for a brief follow-up to our earlier post about Biglaw partner Robert Robbins, head of the corporate practice of Pillsbury Winthrop, and how he spoke — a little too loudly, on a crowded Acela train — about the firm’s planned layoffs. You may have already seen it in the comments, but in case it got lost in the shuffle, the firm has confirmed the gaffe (and the layoffs).

After getting its act together — the Pillsbury website was down for a while today, which some commenters attributed to web traffic resulting from the mini-scandal — the firm issued a statement to The Recorder (via Legal Pad):

It is an unfortunate fact in today’s economy that no business or law firm can rule out adjustments to their overall workforce levels. This includes Pillsbury, and, among other cost cutting measures, we will be implementing reductions to ensure that our resources are aligned with our business needs. We apologize for the unfortunate manner in which our deliberations about reductions have become public.

Robert Robbins Bob Robbins Pillsbury Winthrop.jpgWe reiterate our earlier advice: Pillsbury associates, start your engines laser printers, and crank out those résumés. It’s time to move on. Bob Robbins is coming for you.

We’ve collected selected links to coverage by other outlets — heck, it even made Gawker — of the “unfortunate” incident. Enjoy.

Update: And Instapundit, too.

Pillsbury Confirms Loudmouth’s Layoff Gaffe [Legal Pad / The Recorder]
Pillsbury Accidentally Announces Layoffs on Train [Am Law Daily]
Pillsbury Layoffs Leaked By Partner on Train [The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times]
Doughy Pillsbury Lawyer Demonstrates Why You Should Shut Up on Your Cell Phone [Gawker]
Message to Law Partners [Instapundit]

Earlier: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to New York (Or: Pillsbury associates, brace yourselves.)

Acela Business Class Amtrak.jpgLaw firm partners need to watch more Gossip Girl. If they did, they’d learn the perils of talking about private matters in public places. In the age of BlackBerrys, texting, and cameraphones, it’s ridiculously easy for tipsters to leak details of overheard conversations and not-so-secret rendezvous to their favorite online gossip girl (or boy — XOXO, Lat).

Last year, we wrote about a Thelen partner who was overheard discussing her firm’s layoffs on the subway. Last night, we received this information, from a law student traveling from D.C. to New York:

This afternoon I boarded a train from Washington bound for Penn Station…. I, along with all of the other passengers, were sitting quietly when the man directly behind me decided to make a phone call using his bluetooth. He was talking so loudly that I think most people in the car were able to hear him.

His conversation, though he stressed how necessary it was to be kept secret (ah, the irony), detailed the current plans of Pillsbury to lay off somewhere in the range of 15-20 attorneys from four offices by the end of March, including a few senior associates with low billable hours and two or three first-year associates. I wouldn’t have believed it except for the fact that he identified himself to the call as Bob Robbins, who I learned is the leader of the firm’s Corporate & Securities practice section, and was talking to Rick Donaldson, who I learned was COO. What’s more, he was NAMING NAMES over the phone!

After we expressed skepticism over this wild story, including the tipster’s ability to catch the names of both Robbins and Donaldson, we received this response:

Robert Robbins Bob Robbins Pillsbury Winthrop.jpgI agree it’s pretty wild. I wasn’t trying to overhear, but I had no choice because of the proximity. The name “Robbins” I remembered because he said it so damn loud. I went to their website, and the picture [at right] was an exact match. He was big enough to fit almost two chairs.

“Donaldson” I didn’t remember as clearly. I remembered that it began with a “Do” and thought it was “Dotson,” but there was no “Dotson” on the site — just “Donaldson.” Also, he called him “Rick” a few times.

Says our source, in explaining the decision to tip off ATL:

Before today, I have never even considered posting on this website, but I was so mortified by my experience…. I’ve heard of attorneys being reprimanded for discussing client matters in an elevator. Where does airing your own firm’s dirty laundry on an express train fit on the list? I don’t know if there is a way that you can independently verify this, but if so, please do.

Partial verification, after the jump.

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(Or: Pillsbury associates, brace yourselves.)”

1081067_dumbbell.jpg* Fired U.S. Attorney David Iglesias speaks out against the DOJ’s ACORN probe. [Talking Points Memo]

* Judges in China refuse to take lawsuits over tainted milk. [Associated Press]

* They may cause rashes. And brain cancer. But we still love them. [Reuters]

* Grand jury investigations for Lehman, in New York and New Jersey. [CNN Money]

* Pfizer settles its painkiller suits for $894 million. [Wall Street Journal (subscription)]

* 24 Hour Fitness hates poor people. [Courthouse News Service]

* David Lat was in Charlottesville this week talking to UVA law students about job hunting. He advised going off the beaten track. [Virginia Law]

mich law catfight copy.jpgWhen you’ve been wronged, there’s a part of you that wants the whole world to know. Maybe you think exposing the evildoer’s misdeeds will bring solace, revenge, sympathy… But more often than not, it brings scorn. People just don’t like tattletales.
Several tipsters sent along such an exchange from the University of Michigan’s law school list-serv. Here’s the catfight one law student sent out to the list-serv with the subject line, “not sure how to handle this:”

On Thu, Jul 24, 2008 at 11:22 PM, TATTLETALE wrote:
Listen, I tried to be nice and understanding about all this but now it’s just ridiculous! I did you a favor and now I’ve been stuck hounding you for my phone for months and months as if you’re doing ME the favor! I bought that phone for $120, so either send me a check for that amount or return the phone ASAP…
I’m not going to lecture you about how this is no way to treat a law school class mate and definately [sic] no way to start making your reputation in the legal community — hopefully you realize all that. Just return the phone or the money so I can finally forget about this after half a year!
Date: Fri, 25 Jul 2008 08:01:52 +0200
Subject: Re: phone
You f***ing nasty b****,
My sister is gonna give you a f***ing check that you can f***ing hold onto until I come back from rome.
On Fri, Jul 25, 2008 at 7:54 AM, EVILDOER wrote:

Is bar exam stress driving Michigan students over the edge?
Full exchange (warning: unredacted profanity), plus a bevy of responses, after the jump.
(We’ve redacted identities — and appreciate your protecting anonymity in the comments. Thanks.)

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(By not sending out over the law school list-serv?)

This episode gives new meaning to the term “flip phone.” A cell phone that went off during court proceedings caused one judge to, well, flip out. From the NYT’s City Room blog:

Robert Restaino Judge Robert M Restaino Rob Restaino AboveTheLaw blog.jpgThe next time you pass through the city court system in Niagara Falls, N.Y., remember to turn your cellphone off.

Today, the Commission on Judicial Conduct recommended the removal of a judge in Niagara Falls City Court who had, what the commission’s chairman, Raoul L. Felder, called, “two hours of inexplicable madness” when a cellphone rang in his courtroom.

Specifically, on the morning of March 11, 2005, the judge, Robert M. Restaino, was presiding over a slate of domestic violence cases when he heard a phone ring in his courtroom. He told the roughly 70 people in the courtroom, according to the commission’s report, that “every single person is going to jail in this courtroom” unless the phone was turned over.

Look, we hate cellphones ringing at inappropriate times as much as the next guy. But was Judge Restaino’s reaction a tad over the top? We suggest — with respect, Your Honor — that you’re a few beeps short of a ringtone.
Read what happened next, after the jump.

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