* “Journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs.” Thanks Obama, but AG Eric Holder was the one who kind of signed off on the James Rosen search warrant. [Open Channel / NBC News]
* The chief judge of the D.C. Circuit apologized for a lack of transparency in the James Rosen probe, and this is one of the least embarrassing things that happened this week. [Washington Post]
* Despite having “done nothing wrong,” embattled tax official Lois Lerner announced she’s been placed on administrative leave in light of recent events. I salute you, fellow WNE grad. [National Review]
* Watch out, patent trolls, because this proposed bill might actually be — gasp! — helpful. If enacted, the Patent Abuse Reduction Act’s goal is to help keep discovery costs down. [Hillicon Valley / The Hill]
* It’s a hell of a drug: for some lawyers, the sequester won’t be such a bad thing after all, because Coast Guard and Navy forces won’t be available to intercept 38 tons of cocaine. [Breaking Defense]
* Proskauer Rose’s ex-CFO, Elly Rosenthal, has cut down her $10 million suit against the firm to just one allegation. She claims the firm fired her solely for her diagnosis of breast cancer. [Am Law Daily]
* The Boy Scouts of America will now admit openly gay youths into their ranks for the first time in the history of ever. You should probably “be prepared” for a flurry of litigation over this. [New York Times]
* A mistrial was declared in the penalty phase of the Jodi Arias murder trial. Ugh, come on with this, the Lifetime movie is already in post-production! How on earth are they going to work this in? [CNN]
Ed. note: Apologies for the technical difficulties that have prevented us from posting until now. Thanks for your patience!
* Attention prospective law school applicants: affirmative action, at least as we currently know it, may not be long for this world. A decision in the Fisher v. University of Texas case is expected as early as this week. Stay tuned. [Reuters]
* Justice Stephen Breyer had to get shoulder replacement surgery after having yet another bike accident (his third, actually). Please — somebody, anybody — get this man some training wheels. Justice is at stake! [New York Times]
* “We’re not going to take it, goodbye.” That’s what retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wishes the high court would have said when it came to the controversial Bush v. Gore case. [Chicago Tribune]
* Thanks to the sequester, the Boston bombings case may turn into a “David and Goliath” situation. Sorry, Dzhokhar, but your defense team may be subject to 15 days of furlough. [National Law Journal]
* George Gallantz, the “founding father” of Proskauer’s sports law practice, RIP. [New York Law Journal]
* Leo Branton Jr., the defense attorney at the helm of the Angela Davis trial, RIP. [New York Times]
The stereotypical lawyer is risk-averse. But every stereotype has exceptions. Some lawyers — perhaps you? — have ideas for innovations that they leave the law to pursue.
Are you interested in leaving the practice of law to pursue an entrepreneurial venture? Maybe you can learn some lessons from the experiences of today’s lawyer turned businessperson….
Today’s “stealth lawyer,” which is the term our friends at Bloomberg Law use to refer to their profile subjects, is Eli Broverman. He’s the co-founder and COO of Betterment LLC, an online investment manager for the average person.
After graduating from a top law school without student loans — there’s one lesson for you (law school is okay if you can go debt-free to a T6) — he worked at a leading law firm. After two years in practice, he took his knowledge of securities law, connected with a friend, and launched Betterment. Check out this interview, in which he shares his story with Spencer Mazyck of Bloomberg Law:
Betterment sounds like a great product, doesn’t it? And the fees are low compared to traditional investment-management options. If you’re trying to get your financial affairs in order or save up for a particular goal or project, you should check it out.
Congratulations to Eli on the success of Betterment, which has been praised by the press for its innovative model, and best of luck to him and his colleagues in the years ahead.
Take this famous line and replace “man” with “law firm partner,” and you’ve captured the gist of the lawsuit against Ropes & Gray brought by Patricia Martone, who alleges age and sex discrimination by her former firm. (Martone, a former IP litigation partner at Ropes, is now a Morrison & Foerster partner.)
When I broke the news of this lawsuit back in 2011, I expected a speedy settlement. Would Ropes really want to go toe to toe with a pair of high-powered litigatrices, namely, Martone and her formidable employment lawyer, Anne Vladeck?
But here we are, two years later, and the battle rages on. Ropes has hired a third leading litigatrix to defend itself. Let’s learn the latest news….
(Note the multiple UPDATES at the end of this post.)
An attorney representing Ropes & Gray insisted at a Wednesday hearing that the firm fired a 63-year-old female partner in the fall of 2010 because it no longer made economic sense to keep her, not because it was discriminating or retaliating against her.
Based on that argument, Proskauer Rose labor and employment partner Bettina Plevan attempted to persuade U.S. District Judge John Koeltl to dismiss on summary judgment a lawsuit brought against Ropes in March 2011 by former firm partner Patricia Martone.
Smart move by Ropes in hiring Plevan. Not only is she a distinguished lawyer and former president of the New York City Bar Assocation, but she’s also an older woman lawyer. Plevan graduated from Wellesley College in 1967, a year before Martone graduated from NYU. If this ever winds up before a jury, the gray-haired Plevan will look good in the courtroom.
What didn’t look so good, according to Am Law, was Ropes & Gray:
While the two-and-a half-hour-long hearing failed to produce a ruling, it did portray Ropes as a place where individual partners don’t know how much compensation anyone but they themselves receive and where management is quick to cast aside aging partners whose business has floundered. Martone, a patent litigator who is now with Morrison & Foerster, claims in her suit that Ropes management undermined her Asia-focused intellectual property practice for years, routinely passing off her clients and cases to younger male partners and eventually terminating her after she complained about being discriminated against.
It’s noteworthy that this case is before Judge John Koeltl, himself a former Biglaw partner (and graduate of my alma mater, Regis High School). But he worked at Debevoise & Plimpton, a famously lockstep firm — not an “eat what you kill” firm with lots of internal competition.
It sounds like Judge Koeltl asked good questions during the hearing:
During Wednesday’s hearing, Koeltl zeroed in on the series of events at issue, calling the timing of Martone’s firing so soon after [an internal investigation conducted by O'Melveny & Myers] was completed “troubling.” Koeltl did not rule from the bench, saying at the conclusion of the hearing that he would make a decision in a few weeks and urged the two parties to discuss a settlement in the meantime.
Another smart move by Judge Koeltl. Perhaps the uncertainty of his ruling will force the parties to settle (and get the case off his docket).
Here’s the part of the hearing that made me think of “Death of a Salesman”:
Plevan described what she termed a course of “progressive discipline” involving Martone that began with the conclusion of two patent cases in 2007, including one for longtime client Sanyo. “She was never able to replace that work,” Plevan said. “After mid-2007 she never generated any significant business.”
In court filings, Martone tells a different story, describing new work she brought into the firm up until September 2010, the month before she was fired. Martone says she played a key role in helping the firm launch its first international office, in Tokyo, in 2007. The firm sent two male partners in their 40s to work from Japan full time, naming Martone head of U.S. operations for the practice.
The situation between the partners in Japan and Martone quickly deteriorated, however, with the firm criticizing her for being “too controlling” of the Japan practice and asking her to cede responsibility and pass off her clients there to the younger men, according to her complaint. As a result, her business declined from $10 million in 2006 to $1.4 million for the 12 months ending in August 2009, according to an amended complaint filed in July 2011.
A fall from $10 million to $1.4 million is Willy Loman territory. In fairness to Ropes, one can see why the firm placed Martone on a “watch list” of partners with low hours and weak books of business. (Of course, Martone claims that this dramatic drop was the result of unlawful discrimination.)
In addition to the discrimination claims, the case involves a dispute over ERISA-protected retirement benefits. Here’s a reminder of how delicious retired partner compensation can be:
At the time of her firing, Martone was told that if she took early retirement and did not move to a competitor, she could collect retirement benefits — a number Koeltl pegged at $67,500 annually. (Details of the vast majority of Ropes’s arguments, including many firm policies, have been filed under seal.) [Ed. note: Bummer.]
Martone argues that she should have been able to collect a more lucrative retirement package reserved for legacy Fish & Neave partners — benefits Vladeck said were $124,000 annually plus a $517,000 bonus spread over five years.
The latter package — even if not a Wachtell retirement deal, or a Debevoise retirement deal — is pretty sweet. But even the former package, $67,500 a year, is a retirement benefit that 99 percent of American workers would kill for. Combine that with Social Security and additional savings, and you can live quite well for the rest of your life on that income stream.
UPDATE (4/1/2013, 11:55 a.m.): Here’s an interesting thought from the comments:
Looks like a typical acquisition of a midsized firm by a big firm. Half the partners in the midsized firm are fired within a few years of the acquisition. In this case, Ms. Martone had very lucrative legacy retirement benefits from her old firm, Fish & Neave, which she would lose if she could not stay until age 65. There is a lot of money at stake for her. It looks like Ropes & Gray was getting rid of a lot of partners, likely many of the other legacy partners from Fish & Neave who had similar legacy retirement benefits, because they recognized how expensive the promised retirement benefits would be.
We’ll keep you posted about developments in this case. To paraphrase Arthur Miller — the playwright, not the law professor — we’re not saying Patricia Martone is a great woman. She’s not the finest litigatrix who ever lived. But she’s a human being, and a terrible thing allegedly happened to her. So attention must be paid.
Continuing our annual tradition honoring March Madness, Above the Law is running a law-related bracket, advancing law firms or law schools based on the outcome of reader polls. If you’ve been around for a while, you know the drill. But remember, I’m the new guy, so I’ve made a couple changes to the format this year.
This year, it’s time to talk about law firms. Specifically, your collective editors pose this question: Which law firm has the brightest future? The economy is still fragile and people are writing books with scary titles like The Lawyer Bubble: A Profession in Crisis (affiliate link). The firms in our competition may look healthy today, but we all could have said the same thing at one time about Howrey, Brobeck, Heller, or Dewey.
What firm’s future is so bright their senior partners gotta wear shades?
First of all, like the real NCAA tournament, we’ve decided to expand the field! Instead of our customary 16 invitees, a full 32 firms will compete in this year’s contest, meaning we’ve got enough entrants to warrant creating some regions. In lieu of geography, we’ll go with the aforementioned, gone-but-not-forgotten firms of Howrey, Brobeck, Heller, and Dewey — the lights dimmed far too soon for you all.
In another change, this year we selected the competitors using the profit per partner rankings from the 2012 Am Law 100 (the 2013 rankings aren’t out yet). If you’re unhappy with the seeding, take it up with firm management for not profiting more in 2011.
(For the record, the law firms that got their bubbles burst were Shearman & Sterling, Jenner & Block, Ropes & Gray, and Alston & Bird. Sorry about missing the Dance.)
Law firms will advance to the next round based on reader polls, in which we ask you which law firm has the brightest future. You can define that however you choose. Possible factors to consider include the top talent at a firm, practice area strengths, global footprint (or lack thereof), firm culture — but really it’s up to you. Feel free to justify your votes in the comments.
The polls are below. The first round will close on TUESDAY, MARCH 26, at 11:59 PM (Eastern). Vote early, and tell your colleagues and friends.
‘What, no power rings for the Law School Avengers?’
* In case you didn’t catch this yesterday when it was announced, Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, is currently being held for trial in New York City. This will be the most unbiased jury in the world. /sarcasm [New York Times]
* According to Justice Anthony Kennedy, democracies shouldn’t depend “on what nine unelected people from a narrow legal background have to say.” Well then! I suppose we should look forward to the uprising. [The Big Story / Associated Press]
* Cooley and Winston & Strawn are working on the $600 million sale of everyone’s favorite store for slutty Halloween costumes, Hot Topic. Apparently that store still exists. I had no idea. Good to know! [Am Law Daily]
* Proskauer Rose is now the most powerful Biglaw firm in the sports world. It just goes to show that even if you’re too awkward to play ball, it doesn’t mean you can’t hit it out of the park in court. [Sports Illustrated]
* “I would love to blink and wake up in 10 years and see where all this ends.” Unemployed law grads are probably saying the same thing, but hopefully these law school law firms will be beneficial. [New York Times]
* A group of legal heavy hitters — “The Coalition of Concerned Colleagues” — submitted a cutting letter to the Task ABA Force on Legal Education. Next time, try “The Law School Avengers.” [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]
* If it’s proven that enough Native Americans find the Redskins team name offensive, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board may cancel the mark. Would it be offensive to call the TTAB Indian givers? [National Law Journal]
* An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but benchslaps are another thing entirely. Sorry, Gibson Dunn, but your document production “mistake” was “unacceptable” in Judge Paul Grewal’s courtroom. [Bloomberg]
MAJOR LAW FIRMS THAT PROVIDE A TAX OFFSET FOR DOMESTIC PARTNER HEALTH BENEFITS
Please email us, subject line “Gay Gross-Up,” with corrections or additions to our list.
As we’ve mentioned before, the New York Times also tracks which firms have made this commitment to LGBT workplace equality. If you’d like to see your firm on the NYT list, please contact Tara Siegel Bernard.
* After 22 years of dedicated service, William K. Suter, the clerk of the U.S. Supreme Court, will be retiring come August. Now don’t get too excited about that, it’s not really a job you can apply for; you have to be appointed, so keep dreaming. [Blog of Legal Times]
* A Biglaw hat trick of labor deals: if you’re looking for someone to thank for bringing a tentative ending to the management-imposed NHL lock-out, you can definitely reach out to this group of lawyers from Skadden Arps and Proskauer Rose. [Am Law Daily]
* “Thanks for helping us out, but you can go f**k yourself.” AIG, a company that was bailed out by the government, is now considering suing the government with its shareholders. [DealBook / New York Times]
* Apparently there’s such a thing as the “Nick Saban Corporate Compliance Process.” And as we saw from last night’s game, that process involves efficiency, execution, and raping the competition. [Corporate Counsel]
* Guess who’s back in court representing himself in a racketeering trial? None other than Paul Bergrin, “the baddest lawyer in the history of Jersey.” Jury duty for that could be a fun one. [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]
* Too bad last night’s football game between Alabama and Notre Dame wasn’t played by their law schools. In that case, the final score on factors like tuition, enrollment, and employment would’ve been a tie. [HusebyBuzz]
To: Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C. Associates
From: Executive Committee
Date: November 29, 2012
We are pleased to announce our year-end associate bonuses for 2012. The bonus amounts for each class are set forth below.
Class of 2012 — $10,000 (pro rated)
Class of 2011 — $10,000
Class of 2010 — $14,000
Class of 2009 — $20,000
Class of 2008 — $27,000
Class of 2007 — $34,000
Class of 2006 — $40,000
Class of 2005 — $50,000
Class of 2004 — $60,000
Bonuses for associates beyond the class of 2004 will be determined on an individual basis. Bonuses will be pro rated for those on reduced schedules or approved leaves and for those who joined after January 1, 2012. Bonuses will be paid on December 28, 2012 to associates employed at the Firm and in good standing on that date who have met the Firm’s performance criteria for associates of their seniority. As we discussed at our last Town Hall ten days ago, these criteria have not changed from last year.
This has been a very successful year for the Firm at all levels. We served our clients with distinction; worked on significant and high-profile matters; welcomed new colleagues of enormous talent; and maintained our momentum across all practice areas and offices. While we are immensely proud of our 137-year history we remain relentlessly focused on our future, which has never been brighter. On behalf of the entire partnership we thank you for your dedicated service to the Firm’s clients, the collegiality you display daily with one another and the partnership, and the vibrant and innovative spirit you bring to the Firm every day.