Litigators

We’re now in late September, so you know what that means. The first Monday in October, which starts the new Term of the Supreme Court of the United States, is just around the corner.

With that in mind, the Heritage Foundation wrangled a high-powered pair of panelists to offer their thoughts on October Term 2011:

What did Messrs. Clement and Shanmugam have to say about the upcoming SCOTUS Term?

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Last week, more than a dozen high-profile mass torts attorneys lost a San Francisco jury trial against a small technology company. The jury decided the attorneys had illegally breached a document review contract during the high-profile Chinese drywall class-action litigation.

On September 19, the 14 defendants in Cataphora Inc. v Parker were ordered to pay $317,113 to the technology company in lost profits, plus attorneys’ fees.

“These guys are the worst of hypocrites that you can possibly find,” said Roger Chadderdon, technology counsel at Cataphora. “They claim to be trying to help the little guy, but what they’re doing is trying to put more money in their own pockets. Everybody knows that, but this is a case that illustrates it beyond what I have ever seen.”

Clearly, tempers are still running hot. We’ve got more from both sides of the dispute, and a quick refresher on Chinese drywall, after the jump….

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I’m fast approaching the two-year anniversary of my move in-house, and I don’t often look back wistfully on my former life as a partner at one of the world’s largest law firms.

But last Tuesday was different. Please bear with me.

For 25 years, I practiced, and tried to develop new business, in the complex litigation space. I worked at a firm that wasn’t interested in defending companies in one-off pharmaceutical product liability or Automobile Dealers’ Day In Court Act cases. Those cases were frequently insured (and the carriers often wouldn’t agree to pay our rates) or otherwise too small to fry. But the moment one of those silly little cases morphed into something real — a mass tort or a Dealers’ Act class action — we were chomping at the bit to get retained.

It’s tricky to market into that niche: “I don’t want your ‘drug caused an injury’ case until you have 1,000 of them. Then, even though I spurned you before, I want you to hire me to displace (or, at a minimum, supplement) your existing counsel on the cases.” The existing lawyer already knows the facts and the law, and ignorant you, who showed no interest before, now wants to butt in. How do you pitch that?

I figured the answer was to develop a reputation at the point where small cases transmogrified into big ones: the filing of a class action, the filing of enough cases that a motion for multidistrict litigation became likely, and advising companies how to respond when “60 Minutes” or “20/20″ called for an interview. I thus spent an awful lot of time writing about those topics and speaking at any conference that would give me a lectern and a worthwhile audience.

Then I moved in-house and changed my focus entirely. Until last Tuesday . . .

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Inside Straight: My Wistful Day”

* Police suspect that a client may have been the one to plant a bomb in attorney Erik G. Chappell’s car. Stay far away from family law, folks. [New York Daily News]

* “How come there’s not a school where people can go if they want to become trial lawyers?” How come you don’t know we already have 200 other law schools? [National Law Journal]

* I hope they signed a prenup, because AT&T and T-Mobile have added two more firms to their huge Biglaw wedding party — O’Melveny and Kellogg Huber. [Am Law Daily]

* “A lawsuit has been filed . . . by a female law clerk who alleges that [a] judge slapped her in the buttocks with a legal file.” And Lat wonders why law clerks hate their jobs. [Billings Gazette]

* LiLo may be behind on her court-ordered service hours, but surely she should be credited for the community service of wearing low-cut tops. [New York Post]

* Ninth Circuit Judge Pamela Rymer, RIP. [San Francisco Chronicle]

There’s one guy in your outfit who understands the need not to write stupid e-mails: That’s the guy who just spent all day in deposition being tortured with the stupid e-mails that he wrote three years ago.

That guy will control himself. He’ll write fewer and more carefully phrased e-mails for the next couple of weeks. Then he’ll go back to writing stupid stuff again, just like everyone else.

You can’t win this game; no matter what you say, people will revert to informality and write troublesome e-mails. But you’re not allowed to give up. What’s an in-house lawyer to do?

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Gregory Berry

Kasowitz Benson comes to bury Berry, not to praise him. The firm has moved to dismiss the $77 million lawsuit filed against it by Gregory S. Berry, the former first-year associate at Kasowitz who claimed that the firm wrongfully terminated his employment due to its inability to handle his “superior legal mind.” Berry also alleged fraud, breach of contract, and a host of other claims.

On Wednesday, Kasowitz Benson filed its motion to dismiss Gregory Berry’s complaint, accompanied by a 22-page memorandum of law. The firm’s brief is fairly straightforward, advancing the arguments you’d expect it to make.

But there are a few fun tidbits here and there. Let’s have a look, shall we?

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Your company was just named in a new complaint, and there’s no obvious choice of counsel to defend you. What do you do?

You ask around internally to see whether any of our lawyers has worked with good counsel in the jurisdiction. Perhaps you ask a trusted outside lawyer or two for recommendations. You narrow the choices down to two or three candidates, and you decide to interview the top three firms.

This brings us to the subject of this post: What do you ask at the interviews?

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Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of the day a little-known heroin addict called Russell Brand turned up for work dressed as Osama Bin Laden, and was promptly fired by his then-employer, MTV.

After some ensuing years knocking around the lower echelons of British light entertainment, Brand got himself together and landed a role presenting the VMAs — from which he launched himself into mega-stardom when he branded George W. Bush a “retarded cowboy fella.”

Now, you don’t get career paths like that in law. Having said that, I do know of a London Biglaw associate who was once asked to replace his brightly-coloured socks with a more sober pair in advance of an important client meeting, in which he performed impressively.

Please don’t interpret that as a snarky suggestion that all lawyers are boring. As legal market-watchers well know, many attorneys — especially the litigators — are often anything but. They’re just good at hiding the madness. Usually, anyway….

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During my 25 years litigating at law firms, I fretted about two words: “winning” and “losing.” (As one old-timer put it: “They don’t pay you twelve dollars a minute to lose.”)

Now I’m in-house, and I’m still fretting about two words: “probable” and “estimable.”

What happened?

The accounting rules require corporations to take a reserve (which causes an immediate hit to revenue) when a “loss contingency” (which is accountant-speak for lawsuits, among other things) becomes probable and estimable. If it’s likely that you’re going to lose, and if you can estimate the amount (or, at least, the lower bound of the amount) of the loss, then it’s time to take a reserve.

This can make in-house life odd….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Inside Straight: Projecting Defeat”

Adam Bier (sans beard)

At the Legal Technology Leadership Summit opening reception on Tuesday, I struck up a conversation with a friendly young lawyer. He won immediate social coolness points for several reasons: He has a beard. He’s from the East Bay, like me. He runs a solo practice, and he had some good stories about lawyers following unique, non-lawyerly paths (which we might mention in future posts).

Needless to say, I was surprised to walk into Thursday’s keynote discussion, “Qualcomm Revisited: When Lawyers Face Discovery Sanctions,” and discover that this attorney was actually the youngest member of the Qualcomm Six.

Adam Bier was still a self-described “baby lawyer” when he was wrongfully sanctioned in the landmark 2008 Qualcomm e-discovery case. Kashmir Hill interviewed him early last year, when the appealed sanctions were finally vacated, more than two years after they were first imposed. Bier shared his story with conference attendees, joined onstage by U.S. Magistrate Judge David Waxse and Frank Cialone of Shartsis Friese, who defended several of the outside counsel in Qualcomm.

After the jump, learn the details of Bier’s nightmare experience. Can you imagine yourself in his shoes?

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Dispatch from Amelia Island: When Clients Attack”

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