Litigation

(c) Image by Juri H. Chinchilla.

Ed. note: This is the first installment of “On Remand,” a legal-history column by new writer Samantha Beckett. You can read her full bio at the end of this post.

The statute of limitations never expires on an interesting legal story, so each week “On Remand” will report on legal aspects of a story from the past using a “this day in history” theme. First up, Beatlemania!

Five years before John, Paul, George, and Ringo crossed Abbey Road, they crossed the pond and invaded U.S. living rooms. Fifty years ago last night, the Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show for the first time. The floppy-haired Fab Four were warmly welcomed by shrieking fans and America’s version of royalty – the King himself, Elvis Presley. As Ed Sullivan explained before the Beatles took the stage: “You know something very nice happened and the Beatles got a great kick out of it. We just received a wire – they did – from Elvis Presley . . . wishing them a tremendous success in our country.”

It’s safe to say that Elvis’ wish came true. The Beatles won an Oscar, racked up enough Grammys to collapse a shelf, and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

By 1978, both the Beatles and the British Invasion were ancient history. Beatles fans consoled themselves with the music of Wings and the solo careers of John, Ringo, and George. And one Beatles fan in particular, Steve Jobs, was busy with his two-year-old computer company, Apple Computer. But that year, Apple Computer would experience a British invasion of its own when the Beatles’ company, Apple Corps (thank Paul McCartney for that pun), sued Apple Computer in Britain’s High Court. The dispute concerned the companies’ similar apple logos: a Granny Smith for Apple Corps, and an icon of an apple with a byte bite removed for Apple Computer….

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Ascension to Biglaw partnership demands, obviously and above all, an enormous amount of first-rate legal work, in addition to political savvy, endurance, timing, and luck. A would-be partner’s chosen practice area also undoubtedly plays no small role. If firm leadership believes that there will be a spate of major Chapter 11 filings or trademark litigations on the horizon, obviously that will redound to the benefit of the potential bankruptcy or IP partners (although, as recent news reflects, partnership isn’t necessarily the lucrative, secure lifetime position it once was).

Late last year, ATL took a close look at the newly minted partner classes for the Vault 10 firms. Despite the great profitability and prestige of this select group, it is difficult to draw conclusions about the general direction of the legal market from the composition of these partnership classes. First of all, this is a small sample size. Second, we are witnessing an important shift in the allocation of the business within the market. A recent AdvanceLaw survey of general counsel at major global corporations found that three-quarters of general counsel were inclined to engage “less-pedigreed” firms (e.g., outside the Vault 10 or Magic Circle) for “high stakes” legal work. This survey of GCs (including those from Google, Nike, 3M, Unilever and Deutsche Bank) indicated their willingness to engage firms lower down the Biglaw totem pole.

Because of the apparent diminishment of the brand value of the most historically prestigious firms, as well as the broader trends toward disaggregation and unbundling of legal services, one must account for a larger set of law firms in order to see the fullest picture of the market for high-end legal services. With that in mind, today we look at the practice areas of the entire Biglaw partnership class of 2013….

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Alexandra Marchuk

“Discovery is going to be FUN in this case.” That’s what we previously predicted about Marchuk v. Faruqi & Faruqi, the high-profile lawsuit filed by plaintiff Alexandra Marchuk against her former firm and one of its most prominent partners, Juan Monteverde.

Why did we expect fireworks from discovery? Because of the lurid nature of Marchuk’s allegations, including severe sexual harassment and (effectively) sexual assault, and because of the Faruqi firm’s aggressive response, which included suing Marchuk for defamation and claiming that it was Marchuk who was obsessed with Monteverde.

But it wasn’t just another “he said, she said” type of situation. Both sides claimed that third-party witnesses and contemporaneous documents would corroborate their respective and conflicting accounts.

Discovery is now underway in the case. Witnesses have been deposed, and documents have been produced. What kind of portrait do they paint?

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Justice Scalia is kind of a troll sometimes. He routinely snarks out his fellow justices and is a total dick to legal luminaries like Judge Posner. His belligerence is drenched in sarcasm and usually arbitrary.

In a sense, Antonin Scalia is ATL’s spirit guide.

But when he went after an attorney appearing before him, he got immediately chastised by a fellow justice and raised the ire of even conservative commentators.

In this instance, I’m going out on a limb and say Justice Scalia was absolutely, positively, 100 percent right….

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Sometimes, there is a baby in the room. A real one, usually in the arms of a nervous mother. Because it is Brooklyn, still as diverse a place as there is in the world, the baby might be black, brown, white or yellow. It does not matter. What matters is that there is a freaking baby in the room. I am blessed with four children, all ten and younger, and am the oldest of five, so I am not one of those people for whom children are curiosities best viewed at distance. Even so, there is something surreal about having a baby in the room while I am manning an office at the Brooklyn Family Court for a few hours once a month, trying to help a beleaguered parent make sense of the chaos inherent in their involvement in an adversarial proceeding involving their child. But I, like my fellow volunteers from in-house legal departments, Biglaw firms, and solo practices around New York City, soldier on. And come back, month after month, in the hopes of helping one more person deal with their (literally) intimate and emotional legal issues. In my case, I have been coming back since late 2006. I plan on continuing for as long as I have the strength and the program remains in place.

I am not looking for recognition. If this column motivates someone to dedicate themselves to a pro bono project that they can believe in, that would be great. To be honest, I did not even think about doing pro bono for many years, for all the typical reasons. I was still too junior, too busy, too unable to commit myself to a project that could potentially conflict with my billable matters. While I respected my fellow Biglaw associates who involved themselves in the usual Biglaw pro bono fare — e.g., asylum issues, wrongful convictions, and the like — I was never moved to action. But that changed in 2006, when Greenberg Traurig, in conjunction with some large corporations and other Biglaw firms, announced that it was partnering with the New York City Family Court to start a volunteer-attorney driven program to assist self-represented litigants trying to navigate the hectic, crowded, and extremely fast-paced Family Court system. A system that is challenging for even the most hardened attorneys, but where 95% of the litigants choose, mostly because of financial reasons, to go without a lawyer until one is provided for them. Put simply, help was (and continues to be) needed….

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Until last month, my entire legal career had been spent at large law firms. With a pretty specialized practice focusing on intellectual property, mainly patent litigation. And until last month, I never really needed to hire a lawyer, with one exception. Thankfully, it was for a good reason, to help me close on my house.

Which my lawyer handled with aplomb, so I am happy to recommend him if someone needs a good generalist solo based out of New York City. Even though my general tendency is to try and learn everything I can about something, when it came to buying a house, I really wanted nothing more than to have someone else deal with all the legal stuff. The fact that I was up for partner, and working pretty hard at my Biglaw firm that year, contributed to making me a “just get it done” type of client. Because I trusted my lawyer, and he demonstrated competence and responsiveness, I never needed to get out of that mode. We closed, I paid, and life went on.

I paid happily, and very quickly, because I had engaged someone to provide a service, and saw the results in a timely manner. Even though it was not a complicated transaction by any means, and I probably could have handled it myself, I valued my lawyer’s contribution and thus was happy to pay. I appreciated the small touches — like being handed a binder with copies of all the signed closing documents right after the closing. At the same time, I never really got engaged in the process enough to care to learn about it.

Comparing the experience I had then to my typical patent matter, the difference is stark….

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I was a trial lawyer and most of the trial lawyers who I knew spent about 3,000 hours a year trying to find ways to get good results for their clients. The long hours created stress for lawyers and their families. In return, lawyers used to be revered and respected members of the community.

Laurence F. Valle, in a letter to the Wall Street Journal discussing falling law school enrollment. Valle must be much older than his bio’s photo would suggest if he was around before Shakespeare was earning laughs with his “kill all the lawyers” line.

Ed. note: Please welcome our newest columnist, Gaston Kroub of Kroub, Silbersher & Kolmykov PLLC, an intellectual property litigation boutique here in New York. He’s writing about leaving a Biglaw partnership to start his own firm.

One of the criticisms leveled at Biglaw attorneys is that they do not have a lot of “real” experience — and as a result are somehow lesser lawyers. Biglaw litigators in particular are ripe targets for such remarks, even more so than their brethren in corporate, real estate, or tax. While it is often true that a Biglaw litigator will have much less trial experience or even “on their feet” courtroom experience than a criminal defense attorney, blunt attacks on a Biglaw litigator’s technical skills usually reflect more on the person making the criticism than the subject of that criticism.

For what litigation in Biglaw lacks in terms of volume, it more than makes up for in terms of scope and scale. The crucible that a series of high-stakes litigation matters subjects a Biglaw attorney to is just as capable of forming a highly-skilled litigator as a high-volume personal injury practice. Yes, there are good Biglaw litigators and bad ones, but that is a function of the lawyers themselves, rather than Biglaw’s ability to produce capable litigators. One can even argue that the Biglaw experience makes a better litigator, on average, than someone who learns their craft on a different track.

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Keith Lee

About three years ago, a case caught my eye that still sits in the the back of my mind when looking at our firm calendar or speaking with opposing counsel on a matter. It highlights something that should be self-evident to most attorneys. Yet, as this case illustrates, even routine matters can cause extreme problems.

Booher v. Sheeram LLC was a fairly standard slip-and-fall case. A hotel had been receiving a number of complaints about its slippery bathtubs. The hotel subsequently placed non-skid material in the tubs. Regardless, Mary Booher slipped and fell after the non-skid material had been placed. She and her husband sought to recover damages from the hotel and retained an attorney. Things proceeded along as they do in these matters — discovery plus more discovery — and eventually the hotel filed a motion for summary judgment. After an extension was granted, the deadline for a response from the Boohers’ attorney was set for November 7, 2008.

But Booher’s expert was missing a key document, and was going to be out of the country during the deadline for the motion. And her attorney was about to undergo major surgery. He needed more time in order to properly prepare his brief in opposition. Opposing counsel didn’t mind an extension; these things happen. No one wants to be a jerk regarding scheduling matters. 

But Booher’s attorney didn’t follow the rules, so it didn’t matter. And he lost his clients their case, not on the substance, but on a technicality:

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Ed. note: Please welcome our newest columnist, Gaston Kroub of Kroub, Silbersher & Kolmykov PLLC, an intellectual property litigation boutique here in New York. He’s writing about leaving a Biglaw partnership to start his own firm.

For some reason, while in Biglaw I always seemed to find myself working late in the office on Christmas Eve. Whether it was getting deposition notices out, or making sure that a brief would be ready for filing right after the turn of the year, there were always more billable hours to crank out (even in those years when I had already made it into the next bonus category as an associate, and was not one of those people volunteering for an end-of-year document review in order to make my hours). Particularly as an associate, the end-of-year was usually a peaceful time, as partners left for their year-end vacations, and normally compressed litigation schedules slackened a bit.

In many ways, Christmas Eve was always one of the most peaceful days of the year in Biglaw. For starters, many of the attorneys and a good percentage of the staff were usually out. And those who showed up for work started to trickle out immediately after lunchtime, with a mass exodus around the time of office closing, usually around 3 p.m. I always enjoyed the four or five hours afterwards immensely, where the normal hustle and bustle of the office got replaced by a more serene atmosphere. I was never one to stay in the office unnecessarily, so when I would finish whatever needed to get done, I too would leave. But there was usually at least one project that needed seeing through, and Christmas Eve afforded the luxury of focusing on getting one thing wrapped up without the usual workplace distractions….

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