Litigation

Last week, I headed downtown to meet with Stephen A. Weiss and Eric Jaso, partners at the Seeger Weiss litigation boutique. Weiss co-founded the firm with Christopher Seeger in 1999. Jaso, who just joined the firm from Stone & Magnanini, is a friend and former colleague of mine from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. They kindly agreed to be interviewed about what it’s like to work at an elite, plaintiff-side litigation firm.

Here at Above the Law, we’ve always had strong coverage of the large, defense-oriented firms that collectively constitute Biglaw. In the past few years, however, we have dramatically expanded our offerings related to smaller law firms. We currently have three columnists — Brian Tannebaum, Tom Wallerstein, and Valerie Katz — writing in this space, in addition to the small-firm coverage generated by our other writers.

Consistent with this editorial expansion, I was eager to meet with Weiss and Jaso and hear about Seeger Weiss (which is relatively large for a plaintiffs’ firm, but small compared to a Biglaw firm). I’ve always wondered why more law school graduates don’t go into plaintiffs’ work and why we don’t hear about this side of practice as much. It can represent a chance to do well while also doing good, by vindicating victims’ rights or blowing the whistle on misconduct — especially in the qui tam practice area, a focus of Seeger Weiss.

Here’s what Weiss and Jaso had to say….

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For a litigator, DLA Piper partner Laura L. Flippin didn’t do herself any favors on the stand.

As we mentioned in Non-Sequiturs last night, Judge Colleen K. Killilea of Virginia’s 9th Judicial District accused Flippin — an ATL fan favorite, and former lawyer of the month — of lying under oath. Judge Killilea then found Flippin guilty of public intoxication.

We first wrote about Laura Flippin back in October, when she was arrested for public intoxication after an event for her undergraduate alma mater, William and Mary. Police reports claimed that Flippin blew a .253 BAC and needed help standing up.

But when she was on the stand, here’s what she told the judge about how much she had to drink….

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We have been covering the Justice Department’s case against Megaupload, the formerly massive file hosting site, ever since the government shut it down in January.

We have seen the government’s piracy case devolve from a slamdunk into a slopfest with what appears to be less and less of a chance of successful prosecution. Although charismatic CEO Kim Dotcom is still under house arrest in New Zealand, judicial officials there are getting frustrated with the United States. And the company’s attorneys at Quinn Emanuel are still continuing their assault against the Feds. The firm filed two important briefs yesterday, which could significantly impact the future of the case…

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It is no secret that electronic discovery is not exactly fun or glamorous work. Entry-level associates who have to do document review almost universally hate it. But how important is it, really? Can one deny that e-discovery has become a crucial part of the litigation system?

Has it become important enough to merit its own class in law school? At least one Midwestern law professor thinks so. Read about his plan to integrate it into his law school, and let us know your opinion in our reader poll

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The supremely successful Quinn Emanuel, one of the nation’s leading litigation firms, is known for many things within Biglaw. It secures amazing results for its clients, which help generate sky-high profits per partner. It pays its associates well; it’s one of the few firms providing spring bonuses this year (along with Sullivan & Cromwell). And it enjoys a reputation for innovation, a willingness to experiment with new things (e.g., a revamped recruiting model, a founding partner on Twitter).

Interestingly enough, despite the firm’s flashiness, Quinn also has an academic bent. The QE partnership includes such scholars as Kathleen Sullivan, former dean of Stanford Law School (and the first female name partner in the Am Law 100), and Susan Estrich, who still teaches at USC Law.

Joining these leading litigatrices is another prominent professor, with an international orientation….

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Tom Wallerstein

As readers of this site’s “Lawyer of the Day” posts everyone knows, lawyers and their clients can be guilty of all kinds of outrageous behavior. Litigation especially, with its inherently adversarial nature, seems to bring out the worst in people.

Bad behavior by lawyers comes in many forms. To non-lawyers, most if not all lawyers are jerks or worse. All bad behavior by lawyers is lumped together. But there are important differences.

A lot of bad behavior should be avoided simply because it is counter-productive. For example, an attorney may refuse to offer voluntary extensions of time to respond to discovery, or to a complaint. Aside from violating a principle of professional courtesy, that behavior also is ultimately self-destructive. In litigation, what comes around goes around, and granting extensions of time that will not prejudice your client is a prudent way to ensure later modest courtesies for yourself when needed.

Declining modest extensions to respond to discovery requests is especially unwise, as the responding party can always just serve objections, with the intention of serving substantive responses before a motion to compel can be filed. Because there is no instantaneous remedy for a failure to serve substantive responses, you often have little to gain by refusing a request for a modest extension of time.

Continue reading to find out when bad behavior crosses the line….

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I got caught.

In a column last week, I criticized a brief for using the alphabetical short form “EUSLA” to signify “end user software license agreement.” Depending on the circumstances, I suggested, one might shorten the name of that contract to “agreement,” “license agreement,” or “software license agreement,” but “EUSLA” just doesn’t work — it’s meaningless alphabet soup that doesn’t help the reader of a brief.

As I said, I got caught: The lawyer who had drafted the brief read my column, cleverly figured out who I was criticizing, and called to take issue with me. (Serves me right for using real-world examples in this forum, I suppose.)

“You’re wrong, Mark,” my outside counsel said. “We called that contract an ‘EUSLA’ in all of the depositions in the case. When we quoted deposition transcripts in the summary judgment brief, those quotations called the contract an ‘EUSLA.’ We would have confused things if we called the contract an ‘EUSLA’ in the deposition excerpts and a ‘software license agreement’ in the rest of the brief. ‘EUSLA’ was the right choice.”

This conversation illustrates, first, why you shouldn’t quarrel with me while I have this nifty megaphone at Above the Law and you’ve got bupkis; I can’t possibly lose. And the conversation illustrates, second, the meaning of “digging yourself into an even deeper hole.” “EUSLA” is the wrong short-form in a brief, and your earlier mistakes don’t justify your later one . . .

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The “It firm” of May 2012 would appear to be Greenberg Traurig. It’s the Biglaw behemoth that’s generating the greatest buzz and the most headlines right now (not counting Dewey & LeBoeuf, which will soon find itself in bankruptcy).

Whenever there’s a big story, GT is there. In the past month, it has appeared in these pages as the possible savior of Dewey, the actual savior of Dewey’s Poland operations, and the victim of some alleged rudeness by a divorce lawyer in Texas.

And, of course, Greenberg Traurig has found itself at the center of the TD Bank controversy. Late last week, Judge Marcia Cooke held a contempt hearing, to decide whether Greenberg should be sanctioned due to a discovery debacle.

The hearing spanned two days and featured some high-powered witnesses. What happened?

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We’ve seen some heated deposition transcripts in the past, but we didn’t know that simply scheduling a deposition could get so nasty. Clearly, we’ve never practiced in Texas, a place where Biglaw lawyers occasionally have to contend with “pansy” opposing counsel.

And, you know, have sanctions sought against them for their allegedly inappropriate email correspondence.

We’ve got a fun one today, folks. A partner at Cozen O’Connor in Dallas sent a string of allegedly abusive emails to opposing counsel when the lawyers couldn’t agree on a schedule for depositions. And we know all this because the emails are part of the record in the motion to sanction the Cozen partner.

UPDATE (5/17/2012, 11 AM): We’ve added a link to the full motion for sanctions, after the jump.

Actually, make that former partner. Keep reading, to find out what may have led to the partner’s departure from the firm….

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At a breakfast last week, the Seventh Circuit Bar Association learned the true meaning of going “from the sublime to the ridiculous”: As Judge Frank Easterbrook took his seat, I approached the lectern.

I won’t burden you with the subject of my remarks (regular readers of this column could probably guess), but I’ll share the sublime. Judge Easterbrook said one thing, and he failed to mention another topic that he often raises.

Judge Easterbrook explained that, as a young lawyer, he had sent a brief to the Third Circuit for filing. The clerk rejected the brief and mailed it back. Easterbrook called, and the clerk’s office explained that it had rejected the brief because the back cover was the wrong shade of blue — a shade specified by an unwritten local rule. Easterbrook asked if there were any other unwritten rules, and the clerk said he wasn’t sure. Easterbrook mailed a revised version of the brief, which the clerk’s office again rejected — this time for violating a different unwritten local rule. On the third try, the clerk’s office finally accepted the brief. Easterbrook swore that, if he were ever the chief judge of a circuit, all of the rules would be in writing. Easterbrook then told the assembled crowd that (1) the Seventh Circuit’s written rules are fairly comprehensive and (2) the clerk’s office is extremely helpful if you call for advice, so there’s no longer an excuse for not complying with appellate local rules.

Judge Easterbrook last week chose not to discuss a different subject. One of the other folks who attended the breakfast meeting told me that the judge often raises this in his talks . . .

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