If you’re a big corporate defendant hoping to be represented by Sheila Birnbaum and you head over to Skadden Arps, sorry — you’re out of luck. Your princess is in another castle.
The so-called “Queen of Toxic Torts” is about to leave her longtime realm. Birnbaum, the legendary litigatrix who currently serves as co-head of Skadden’s mass torts and insurance litigation group, is decamping to a rival.
So where is Birnbaum taking her talents — and her bulging book of business, estimated at more than $30 million? And is anyone else going with her?
(Multiple UPDATES, including Skadden’s internal memo, after the jump.)
Earlier this week, we wrote about a pair of prominent partners at Skadden Arps who got hit with a big-time benchslap. A federal judge in Chicago issued an order to show cause, requiring the Skadden lawyers to explain why they should not be sanctioned for failing to cite a highly relevant (arguably dispositive) Seventh Circuit case when briefing a motion to dismiss. The judge also set “a status hearing in open court…. [at which the attorneys] are all directed to appear in person.”
The Skadden partners filed a contrite response. They apologized profusely to the court, explained why they viewed the Seventh Circuit as distinguishable, and argued that even though they erred, their conduct didn’t merit sanctions. They announced to the court that they had settled the case in question, with Skadden “contributing to the settlement amount in order to personally redress plaintiffs’ counsel for responding to the motion to dismiss.” (In a classy move, they also extracted their associate from under the bus, explaining that he played no substantive role in the briefing.)
Despite the apology and the settlement, the status hearing went forward as scheduled yesterday. What happened?
On the transactional side, things seem to be going gangbusters for Skadden Arps. As we noted yesterday, the firm took the top spot in three separate rankings of 2012 M&A work. In 2011, a different firm sat atop each set of rankings, but in 2012, Skadden ruled them all.
On the litigation side, though, the new year has brought new headaches for Skadden. Earlier this month, a high-profile partner at the firm, along with another partner and an associate, got hit with a big benchslap. A federal judge issued an order to show cause, asking the Skadden lawyers to explain why they should not be sanctioned, and set “a status hearing in open court…. [at which the attorneys] are all directed to appear in person.” Ouch.
Skadden recently filed its response to the OSC. Let’s review the benchslap, then see what the Skadden lawyers had to say for themselves….
So I went to the annual conference of the Association of American Law Schools in New Orleans this past weekend. The place was lousy with law school deans and I had a ton of interesting, off-the-record conversations that I can’t report on. I also spent a weekend in New Orleans that involved all sorts of other things I can’t report on. It was fun and informative, you just have to trust me.
One thing I can report on was an AALS panel I attended, “The 75th Anniversary of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure: Looking Back, Looking Ahead.” Now… I know that doesn’t scream “drop your panties,” but the panel was moderated by Arthur Miller. Yeah, thatArthur Miller, the famous law professor who wrote Death of A Civil Procedure Rules Salesman or something. And the all-star panel he was moderating included Justice Antonin Scalia… a person Miller doesn’t really agree with when it comes to rules. I had to go. Literally, I had to.
Unfortunately, the conversation was completely over my head. I’m not embarrassed to say that. Other people in my position may pretend that they got the most out of this discussion between Miller, Scalia, Biglaw partners, district judges, and others who have advised the Rules Committee. To me it sounded like, “TWOMBLY wha wha whaa, but in IQBAL wha wha wha wha! Wha? Given TWOMBLY’s wha and IQBAL’s wha, how could you wha wha whaaa?? [Laughter]”
Back in March, we reported that Skadden D.C. lost important members of its litigation team when Andrew Sandler and Benjamin Klubes left to start their own firm. Have those losses been replaced? Sources report Skadden is in the process of poaching a big name from O’Melveny & Myers. Apparently, John Beisner is leaving OMM for Skadden, and he’s taking Jessica Miller and Steve Harburg with him.
Beisner is based out of Washington, D.C. and is the chair of O’Melveny’s firmwide Class Actions, Mass Torts, and Aggregated Litigation Practice. A source says this about Mr. Beisner’s importance to O’Melveny:
Beisner’s cases are an unbelievable percentage of the entire litigation portfolio – this has been a huge fear now realized among associates/counsel.
Arthur Culvahouse, chairman of O’Melveny & Myers, was in charge of vetting Sarah Palin and has been taking some heat.
But Culvahouse has more to worry about than the National Enquirer. Culvahouse is locked in a high-stakes political battle to keep his chairmanship at O’Melveny. O’Melveny’s policy committee, which recommends the chairperson subject to ratification by the full partnership, failed to select a clear winner over the past few weeks.
Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past six years. You can reach them by email: [email protected].
Since late last year, things have been booming in Hong Kong / China in cap markets, especially Hong Kong IPOs. M&A deal flow has recently been getting a bit stronger as well. Although one can’t predict such things with any certainty, all signs are pointing to a banner entire 2014 for the top end US corporate and cap markets practices in Hong Kong / China. This is not really new news, as its been the feeling most in the market have had for a few months now and things continue to look good.
The head of our Asia practice, Evan Jowers, has been in Hong Kong for about 10 days a month (with trips every other month to both Shanghai and Bejing) for the past 7 months, and spending most of his time there meeting with senior US hiring partners at just about all the major US and UK firms there, as well as prospective candidates at all associate levels and partner levels, and when in the US, Evan works Asia hours and is regularly on the phone with such persons, as our the other members of our Asia team. Our Yuliya Vinokurova is in Hong Kong every other month and Robert is there about 5 times a year as well. While we have a solid Asia team of recruiters, Evan Jowers will spend at least some time with all of our candidates for Asia position. We have had long standing relationships, and good friendships in some cases, with hiring partners and other senior US partners in Asia for 8 years now.
The evolution of relationships between the genders continues. Currently, in law firms, there is an interesting conundrum; balancing the desire for a gender-blind workplace where “the best lawyer gets the work and advances” and the reality of navigating the complicated maze created by the fact that, in general, men and women do possess differences in their work styles. These variations impact who they work with, how they work, how they build professional connections and how organizations ultimately leverage, reward and recognize the talents of all.
Henry Ford sat on his workbench and sighed. A year earlier, he had personally built 13,000 Model Ts with his own hands. Fashioning lugnuts and tie rods by hand, Ford was loath to ask for help. Sure, there were things about the car that he didn’t quite understand. This explains the lack of reliable navigation systems in the Model T. But Ford persevered because he knew that unless he did everything, he could not reliably call these cars his own.
“Unless my own personal toil is responsible for it, it may as well be called a Hyundai,” Ford remarked at the time.
The preceding may sound unfamiliar because it is categorically untrue. And also monumentally stupid. Henry Ford didn’t build all those cars by hand. He had help and plenty of it. Almost exactly one hundred years ago, Henry Ford opened up the most technologically advanced assembly line the world had ever seen. Built on the premise that work can be chopped up into digestible pieces and completed by many men better than one, the line ushered in an age of unparalleled productivity.
Today, an attorney refers business because he can’t do everything the client asks of him.
There are three reasons why this is way dumber than a made-up Henry Ford story…