conflict of interest

Are partners just puppets of their law firms’ clients?

Mr. Armstrong sat at the controls of Morgan Stanley, which employed and paid Blank Rome millions of dollars in fees, thus allowing Blank Rome to be the ultimate ‘puppet master,’ as Blank Rome could control Ms. Armstrong’s divorce litigation in a manner designed to protect Morgan Stanley.

Jonathan Sack, counsel to Kristina Armstrong, in a malpractice lawsuit that Armstrong just filed against her former divorce lawyers at Blank Rome.

(More about Armstrong’s allegations, after the jump.)

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Conflict checks. A necessary evil in today’s incestous Biglaw, where every partner is a potential lateral, and client loyalty is fickle. Biglaw’s insurance companies demand them, so every firm goes through the motions — at sizable expense, given the size of your typical firm’s “Intake” or “Risk Management” department. Conflicts themselves are an old story, of course. Everyone would be a rainmaker, but for them. Blaming a lack of performance on conflicts is a time-honored Biglaw tradition. But who cares about excuses.

Let’s talk opportunities. There is plenty of information an enterprising Biglaw partner (or partner-aspirant) can glean from the firm’s hourly-daily-weekly conflicts report. Free information, as in not requiring the expenditure of political capital to obtain. (Practice tip: every Biglaw interaction is political in nature. At least you should treat them that way.)

Back to conflict reports. For many, they are simply another email to be skimmed and dragged into “Deleted Items” with all dispatch. A good percentage of Biglaw attorneys probably ignore them outright. That is a mistake. Why ignore a potentially valuable resource and real-time look into the health of your firm? Especially when your other option is to wait for the firm’s executive committee to update you on the firm’s performance — usually using financial metrics that present their own “management” abilities in the best possible light. Associates and other non-partners are not even usually dignified with any such information — but everyone gets a peek at the conflict check.

So what can we learn from conflict reports?

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Mary Jo White

Mary Jo White? More like Mary Jo Green. President Obama’s pick to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission is deliciously rich, as revealed in her financial disclosures.

Although she’s barely five feet tall, making her a little litigatrix, Mary Jo White wears big shoes. In the words of my colleague Elie Mystal, a former Debevoise & Plimpton associate, she’s “one of those alpha dog partners…. the kind of partner that makes other partners stammer, shuffle papers, and try to look really busy and intelligent when she’s in the room.”

The sizable net worth of Mary Jo White shouldn’t surprise anyone. Not only is she a longtime Debevoise partner, but her husband, John W. White, has been a partner at Cravath, Swaine & Moore for more than 25 years (interrupted from 2006 through 2008 by a stint at the SEC, actually, where he served as Director of the Division of Corporation Finance).

Let’s get a sense of Mary Jo White’s fortune….

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Apparently Google thinks this Mob Wife is a 'cheap hooker.' If nothing else, she totally dresses like one.

* The harsh realities of post-recession practice: will Biglaw leaders have to resort to alternative billing practices in order to survive? Well, they better, or else they’re “not going to have a law firm for very long.” [Washington Post]

* I don’t think “secret service” means what you think it means. Listen up, agents, prostitution might be legal in much of Columbia, but it makes America look bad when you can’t afford a $47 hooker. [New York Post]

* Jessica Recksiedler, the judge assigned to oversee George Zimmerman’s case, may have a conflict of interest thanks to her husband. Somebody’s getting banished from the bedroom this week. [Bloomberg]

* Law firms with ties to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie have seen record profits compared to their take under Jon Corzine’s rule. That said, even if he called them “idiots,” it was totally worth it. [Star-Ledger]

* UMass Law is being reviewed for accreditation by the American Bar Association, and opponents are throwing some major shade. As if Dean Ward’s scandalous resignation wasn’t enough. [South Coast Today]

* Is this house haunted as a matter of law? That’s what this New Jersey couple is hoping that a judge will say about their rental home. Hey, it wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened in the tri-state area. [ABC News]

It seems there is an interesting emerging trend in litigation these days: When a ruling doesn’t go your way, just make an appeal alleging judicial conflict of interest.

Same-sex marriage opponents wanted California judge Vaughn Walker to recuse himself from Prop. 8 hearings because he is gay. If and when the Supreme Court decides to rule on Obama’s healthcare law, some people have called for Clarence Thomas to recuse himself because of his wife’s outspoken work to repeal the act.

And yesterday, an Illinois woman convicted of child battery lost her appeal for a new trial. She appealed on the basis that the judge in her case’s adult children are Facebook friends with her alleged victim’s family….

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