Conflicts of Interest

Now that Patton Boggs is safely in the hands of Squire Sanders — minus a few notable defectors, such as Ben Ginsberg’s high-profile election-law team, which is leaving for Jones Day — observers of Biglaw are looking around for other possible trouble spots. And some of them are focusing on Bingham McCutchen.

Back in February, we covered some less-than-positive developments at Bingham: “tumbling profits, partner departures, and unfortunately timed staff layoffs.” What has happened since then?

As we mentioned earlier today, partner departures continue at the firm. Who are the latest partners to leave Bingham, and where are they going?

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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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Before the series of arbitrary budget cuts known as the “sequester” dropped, I made a few predictions for how this fiscal debacle would affect the legal profession. Now, a few weeks into this policy, we have a couple of real life impacts to talk about.

First, if you’re a lawyer for a government agency, surprise! You may not be able to ethically defend your agency against furlough appeals.

Second, some administrative law judges have been grounded. In the context of the Labor Department claims, that means claimants are having their trials undermined if not outright halted by the sequester….

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