Litigators

Lauren Serafin and Robert Leighton

Chicago sounds like a tough town for romance. Check out the first Courtship Connection date that went down in the Windy City. Let’s hope that future dates go better.

Chitown was also the venue for Serafin v. Leighton. In this lawsuit, a lovely young lawyer, Lauren Serafin, sued her handsome ex-fiancé, Sidley Austin associate Robert Leighton, for “breach of promise” to marry. Serafin alleged that Leighton cheated on her during his Las Vegas bachelor party, with a woman named “Danielle,” and then broke off the engagement — saddling Serafin with almost $63,000 in wedding- and honeymoon-related expenses.

We now bring you an update on this saga….

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Last night we wrote about a high-profile lawsuit: 3M v. Lanny Davis. Yes, that’s right: the maker of Post-its and Scotch tape is going after Lanny J. Davis, the noted D.C. lawyer and lobbyist, along with his client, Porton Capital (a group of private investors).

It’s a strange lawsuit, but the allegations in it aren’t new. Similar suits were filed by 3M in June and July, in New York state court. (And one of them is still pending, despite the filing of an action in D.C. federal court.)

The primary parties, 3M and the Porton Group, have crossed swords before. In fact, they’re litigating against each other right now in merry olde England, before the High Court in London. In the U.K. litigation, 3M is being sued by Porton Capital and by the British government (in the form of Ploughshare Innovations, an entity owned by the U.K.’s Ministry of Defence).

According to the Wall Street Journal, Porton and Ploughshare allege that 3M failed to diligently develop the BacLite testing technology, “a product already proved and used in Europe as a cheap and quick way of detecting methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, commonly known as MRSA, a hospital infection.” The reason this is so upsetting to Porton and Ploughshare is that they were contractually entitled to receive royalties from 3M’s sales of BacLite. The plaintiffs in the U.K. case claim that 3M abandoned BacLite less than a year after buying it — after botching the BacLite trials, and declaring the testing technology non-viable — “in order to protect a 3M-developed detection product known as Fastman from the less expensive rival posed by BacLite.”

Got that? Okay. Now, some updates to our prior coverage….

UPDATE (9/2/11, 9:30 AM): An update to our updates: a statement from William A. Brewer III, counsel to 3M, has been added below.

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Lanny Davis

Physician, heal thyself? D.C. power broker Lanny Davis, a guru of crisis management, now has a crisis of his own to manage.

Davis has been hit with a federal lawsuit by, oddly enough, one of America’s largest corporations: 3M, the Fortune 100 company and Dow Jones Industrial Average component that’s famous for such products as Post-it Notes and Scotch tape. It’s surprising to see a mega-corporation like 3M going after a high-profile lawyer like Davis.

When you see a large corporation suing a prominent attorney like Davis — who, before launching his own firm last year, was a partner at such firms as McDermott Will & Emery, Orrick, and Patton Boggs — you might expect a malpractice claim. But that’s not the case here….

UPDATE (10:50 AM): Comments from Lanny Davis and his client, the Porton Group, have been added below. They point out that this is 3M’s third bite at the apple — the company previously filed two similar cases in New York state court. (The first suit was withdrawn, while the second still appears to be pending — rather strange, given the D.C. federal court filing.)

UPDATE (5:50 PM): Here is more information about 3M v. Lanny Davis.

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Many litigators have a bias against settlement. It’s understandable. There’s no glamor in settling cases. No one is ever going to make a TV show called “The Settler,” about a young but scrappy underdog lawyer who fiercely negotiates tough-but-fair settlement agreements and always remembers to allow a 21-day waiting period if the plaintiff is 40 or over. (On second thought … better call my agent.)

Forget TV and movies. No lawyer has ever come home with the exciting news about settling a lawsuit (at least, no defense lawyer). “Honey, I settled the Devens case!” “That’s great, dear. Now go mow the lawn.”

In the midnineties, I was a junior associate working on a contentious sexual-harassment case. While we were able to win partial summary judgment, the main claims headed to trial in federal court. During the negotiations before the trial, the partner from my firm had a conversation with the plaintiff’s lawyer, who was that sort of rough-around-the-edges attorney who prided himself on spending a lot of time in the courthouse.

Looking to put my boss in place, the guy took a shot at our firm’s litigation style. Here’s what he said …

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Gregory Berry

One of the most compelling characters to populate our pages lately is Gregory S. Berry. As you surely recall, Gregory Berry is the Penn Law grad and ex-associate at Kasowitz Benson who is now suing his former firm for a whopping $77 million.

Thus far, reader sentiment doesn’t seem favorable towards Berry. According to Above the Law sources, Greg Berry wasn’t popular at Penn Law, where he was known for sending strange emails about his traffic court misadventures to his classmates. A tipster who knew Berry during his first career, as a software engineer who “conquer[ed]” Silicon Valley, expressed the view that Berry was “very inflexible,” lacking in a sense of perspective, and “not a good fit with the dot.com 1.0 work-style.”

In fairness to Berry, however, we have heard more positive opinions as well. For example, one Penn classmate described Berry to us as “a nice, smart dude, and a go-getter.”

And now a second source has contacted us, also to defend Greg Berry — and to criticize Berry’s former employer, Kasowitz Benson Torres & Friedman….

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Juliette Youngblood and Morgan Chu

Last month, Juliette Youngblood, an ex-partner at the elite California law firm of Irell & Manella, filed suit against her former firm. In her lawsuit for sex discrimination and wrongful termination, Youngblood advanced a whole host of salacious allegations — including a report of sexual harassment by Morgan Chu, arguably the nation’s #1 intellectual-property litigator.

Irell did not respond to the lawsuit at the time. Now it has, in a blistering 22-page filing that calls Youngblood’s claims “meritless” and “utterly false, complete fabrications manufactured out of whole cloth.”

What does the firm have to say about the specific claims made by Youngblood — such as the allegation that a drunken Morgan Chu made inappropriate and offensive comments to her at a firm happy hour, including remarks about her physical appearance and about “objects entering [Youngblood's] body”?

And what do ATL sources, including readers familiar with both Youngblood and Irell, think of the situation?

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Firm denies claims and moves for arbitration.

Above the Law’s popular, somewhat tongue-in-cheek advice column, Pls Hndle Thx, has been on hiatus. Marin has been busy following the career of John Stamos, and Elie is on vacation this week. (He’ll be back on Monday.)

In the meantime, we have a request for advice from a reader. Let’s take a look at it, shall we?

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First, a shameless plug; then, back to business.

Law360 surveyed practicing lawyers around the country asking what books the practitioners would recommend for new lawyers –- the so-called “legal greenhorns.” (The Law360 article requires a subscription; this recent piece from the ABA’s “Young Lawyer” is free of charge and summarizes the results.) The recommended books for new lawyers included Shakespeare’s plays; Alexander Hamilton and James Madison’s The Federalist Papers; Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird; and Mark Herrmann’s The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law (affiliate link).

That leaves only one question: Who’s that Shakespeare guy, and why’s he cluttering up my list?

But enough of that. On to today’s business. How do you bring an ignorant client up to speed?

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I am not proud to admit this, but it is possible that my three-year-old niece knows more about branding than I do. I learned this the other day when I was reading my niece one of her favorite books, Fancy Nancy.

For those of you who not know Nancy, she is a little girl who loves to dress fancy, act fancy and talk fancy. For example, this little girl does not say that her favorite color is purple. She prefers fuchsia, a word that is “fancy” for purple. Similarly, Nancy does not want a new hairdo. No, Nancy uses the fancy word “coiffure” instead. For some reason, my niece loves Nancy, but I think she is a showoff. When asked why she loves the know-it-all Nancy, my niece explained that she made things sound better.

Maybe my niece had a point. If you want your small firm to sound better, then use fancy words. As Nancy would explain, do not call yourself a “trial lawyer.” Everyone knows that “litigator” is fancy for trial lawyer. Or is it?

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If you haven’t yet read the long piece in Fortune magazine about the rise and fall of Jeff Kindler as the CEO of Pfizer, you really should. The story may or may not be true — I have no idea — but it would be interesting reading even if it were a work of fiction about corporate political intrigue.

I’ve never met Jeff Kindler. I do know several people who are close friends of his, and I’ve watched his career from a distance as he moved from Williams & Connolly to GE to the general counsel of McDonald’s to the general counsel of Pfizer and then, startlingly, to the CEO of Pfizer. The Fortune piece traces this whole career in detail and then describes why and how Kindler resigned from the CEO spot after serving only very briefly.

Why mention that article here? First, I’m doing you a favor; if you hadn’t previously heard about the piece, now you have a link.

Second, the article said two things about in-house counsel that rang true with me — whether or not these things actually occurred at Pfizer….

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