Litigation

Appellate practices are great.

For lawyers who enjoy thinking and writing, but don’t have much taste for the hand-to-hand combat of discovery, appellate practices are pure joy. Appellate advocates bask in the intelligence and majesty of the law, without having to do daily battle with psychopaths.

For big firms, appellate practices are the crown jewels of the litigation side of the shop: “We’ve argued cases in the Supreme Court!” “We participated (either on the merits or as amici) in ten percent of the Supreme Court’s docket last year!” Shout it to the heavens! What’s the implicit message?

“We’re doing these cases for free!”

Oh, Herrmann, you’re such a cynic. Surely the implicit message is: “We’re God’s gift to advocacy!”

It’s a marketer’s dream.

But one leading appellate lawyer recently told me that the Great Recession has hurt his practice in ways you wouldn’t expect. And I’m here to tell you that, although appellate practices done right can help a firm, appellate practices done wrong are dangerous things . . . .

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Ed note: This post originally appeared on Internet on Trial.

In this age social media justice, sooner or later you’re going to have an encounter with a negative online review, whether your a business owner, or simply a consumer. It seems like it’s becoming an accepted aspect of our lives. Increasingly, however, consumer reviews posted on various Internet sites are becoming the subject of litigation.

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We all dream of a world in which collegiality matters.

Partners at law firms are . . . well . . . partners. They look out for each other. They build each other’s practices. They work for the common good.

Perhaps that firm exists. I wouldn’t know.

From my perch here — as the guy who left a Biglaw partnership for an in-house job, and on whose shoulder other Biglaw partners now routinely cry — the view is pretty ugly. (Perhaps my perspective is distorted because of an obvious bias: Partners happy with their firms don’t come wailing to me.) What I hear these days is grim: Guys are being de-equitized or made of counsel; they think they’re being underpaid; they’re concerned that they’ll be thrown under the bus if they ever lose a step.

Several recent partners’ laments prompted me to think about something that I’d never considered when I worked at a firm. (Maybe that’s because I’m one of those guys who was perfectly happy laboring for the common good. Or maybe it’s because I’m a moron.)

In any event, here’s today’s question: I want to wrestle effectively with my own law firm. I don’t want to be nasty; I just want to be sure that I have implicit power when I negotiate with the firm. I want the firm — of its own accord, without me saying a word — to treat me right. How do I wrestle my own law firm to the ground? How do I pin my partners?

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Judge Richard Posner isn’t amused — but we are!

Judge Richard Posner isn’t trying to entertain us. He just does.

When he benchslaps prominent Biglaw partners or government lawyers fighting marriage equality, he’s not trying to be funny. He’s just trying to understand the facts of a case or get to the bottom of the legal arguments — and he’s, well, maybe not as diplomatic as some other judges in going about his business.

Let’s check out the latest argument where Judge Posner snarked on hapless counsel….

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‘Hey, everybody! I just wanted to let you know I’m an a-hole!’

Law is a profession that attracts some of the most cunning of linguists modern society has to offer. The ability to speak eloquently about dense legal concepts is an art that takes years to perfect, and is a skill that some lawyers can only hope to someday achieve. Until that time rolls around, other lawyers are happy to roll up their sleeves and employ the usage of a language they’re all fluent in to prove their respective points: sarcasm. It’s the lazy lawyer’s key to success — but it can also serve as his undoing.

Sometimes, being overly sarcastic can earn a lawyer a reputation for being a loveable jokester. Other times, being overly sarcastic can earn a lawyer a seat at his very own disciplinary hearing. For example, asking opposing counsel if he’s “grow[n] a pair” yet would probably land a lawyer in the hot seat.

The subject of today’s foray into ethical lapses definitely grew a pair of his own, because not only was he censured for his over-the-top sarcastic remarks, but he also admitted that he’d been ignoring his work in favor of golf trips and exotic vacations. Fore! Watch out for that legal career hitting the sand trap…

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Lawyers and reality television: a match made in heaven? Some might regard Andi Dorfman, the beautiful Atlanta prosecutor turned Bachelorette, as a goddess (and some might disagree).

Talk of paradise brings us to the latest high-profile reality TV offering: Utopia. This “big, bold, and expensive” Fox show debuted last night to ratings described as “not ideal.” The premise of the show: drop 15 people into an isolated five-acre camp in the California wilderness, with no internet, electricity, or plumbing, and watch these “founding fathers and mothers” try to “form a new society and rethink all the fundamental tenets of civilization.”

An Above the Law reader who watched the first episode described Utopia as “a complete train wreck.” But at least it’s a train wreck featuring a lawyer — a rather attractive lawyer, in fact….

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There’s not really much to say here. There are just a few things to remember to avoid an embarrassing oral argument. Basically, don’t condescend to the judges on your appellate panel, and try to show up wearing pants (and maybe some socks). Pretty simple, right?

We’ve seen this kind of confrontational tone out of lawyers before, and it never ends well for the attorney. Like when Jones Day’s Matthew Kairis thought it wise to continuously interrupt Judge Posner in Notre Dame v. Sibelius. What happened next was… entirely predictable: Kairis ended up with an earful from Judge Posner about the proper role of an advocate before an appellate panel.

This poor fellow earns the same basic tongue-lashing, just with a different accent…

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Won’t somebody please think of the children?

That quote comes from the contemptible Helen Lovejoy and probably a bunch of other sanctimonious folks trying to dupe the public into backing some BS agenda armed with the logical fallacy of an emotional appeal. The devil of it is these empty emotional pleas are so convincing to a lot of people. Sadly, lawyers aren’t above pulling this card to snowjob judges and the media.[1]

After the Vergara v. California decision there was a brief volley of commentary before everyone moved on to the next big event. The decision struck California’s teacher tenure law as unconstitutional because granting tenure to experienced teachers could possibly, maybe mean that a “bad” teacher couldn’t be fired fast enough. The decision earned the praise of a bi-partisan peanut gallery from the dwindling posse of Republicans in California to Secretary of Education and NBA Celebrity All-Star MVP Arne Duncan.

Everyone seems to want in on the “education would be peachy if it weren’t for the teachers” movement — including a metric s**t ton of Biglaw bigwigs. Gibson Dunn’s Ted Boutrous and Randy Mastro spearheaded the Vergara case. Ted Olson advised. David Boies is the chair of the Partnership for Educational Justice, a group fronted by former CNN anchor Campbell Brown bringing a similar lawsuit in New York fronted by Kirkland’s Jay Lefkowitzpro bono, of course. Now even Professor Larry Tribe is in the mix.

Stop the sanctimonious love-in. They aren’t championing children, they’re either starstruck or shilling or both. I mean, the Republicans have always wanted to kill unions because it’s easier to gut public schools for fun and profit. Democrats have jumped on board more recently because they want to suck up to tech billionaires like Bill Gates who preach that fixing the public education system that they never really participated in themselves is as simple as building an internet browser (which it is, if you want Internet Explorer).[2]

And all these legal luminaries throwing their reputations behind this effort just highlights how flimsy it is, as a matter of law and policy….

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Deepak Gupta

It’s an intimidation model. It’s a way for corporations to go after their critics and those who fund them.

Deepak Gupta of Gupta Beck PLLC, lead appellate lawyer for Steven Donziger in Donziger’s never-ending litigation with Chevron, commenting on the oil giant’s hardball tactics and aggressive litigation style (for a lengthy Rolling Stone article about the case).

Raise your hand if you’ve been to Marshall, Texas. It’s on the eastern edge of the Lone Star State, not far south from Springdale, Arkansas, where Jim Bob and Michelle are raising 19 kids (and hopefully no more), and just west of Monroe, Louisiana, where the Robertsons play whack-a-duck every fall.

I see a few hands raised. Vacationing in Marshall, perhaps? No? Visiting family? No?

Then, I bet you’re patent litigators….

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