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).
Time 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.
We 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.
Law 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:
I 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.
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