On Sunday, Sidley Austin announced a regime change at the firm. Over the next year, veteran Supreme Court litigator Carter Phillips will become co-chair and eventually chair of the firm’s executive committee. In 2013 he will replace the current chair, Thomas Cole.
Currently, Phillips is managing partner of Sidley’s Washington D.C. office. He recently argued his 76th case in front of the Supreme Court. I had the opportunity to ask him about the Obamacare arguments last month.
Keep reading to learn more about the transition and to find out what it takes for an accomplished practicing attorney to take on a crucial business role…
Last week we covered a controversy down in south Florida involving Greenberg Traurig. The firm was replaced as counsel in a particular case by its client, TD Bank, after a partner at the firm denied the existence of a document that, it turned out, actually does exist. The partner who allegedly made the statement is no longer with the firm, and next month, Judge Marcia Cooke (S.D. Fla.) will hold a hearing to determine whether the bank should be held in contempt of court as a result of this apparent screw-up.
This does not sound good, to be sure. But subsequent developments, as well as a closer examination of the situation, suggest that GT’s culpability may be overstated….
Federal judges don’t take kindly to misstatements by counsel appearing before them. And when the judge is unhappy, the client is unhappy. And when the client is unhappy, outside counsel gets cashiered. It’s not a pretty process.
Let’s travel down to south Florida, where an allegedly incorrect statement by a partner at Greenberg Traurig has incurred the wrath of a federal judge — apparently resulting in the client replacing the firm, and the firm parting ways with the partner.
The renowned IP litigator Matthew Powers, founding partner of Tensegrity Law Group, has a nickname here at Above the Law. We like to call him Matt “Pimp Hand” Powers. Back in 2008, a paralegal at Weil Gotshal alleged in a lawsuit that Powers, former cochair of litigation at Weil, ruled over his domain by alternating between use of the “pimp hand” and the “mojo hand.” The “pimp hand” was used to intimidate and coerce, while the “mojo hand” was used to stroke and cajole.
Over the years, numerous litigants have felt the sting of Powers’s pimp hand. He has been described, quite accurately, as “one of the most feared, respected, and successful patent litigators in the country.” As noted on his website bio, Matt Powers “is known for taking tough cases to trial and winning them,” on behalf of leading technology companies like Apple, Oracle, Microsoft, and Intel.
But now the tables have turned. Powers recently found himself on the receiving end of a benchslap — from a lowly administrative law judge, ick….
The U.S. government seems to be losing ground quickly in the PR war surrounding the case against Megaupload, the massive file-sharing site, and the company’s leader, Kim Dotcom. Just over a week ago, we learned that Quinn Emmanuel had signed on as the company’s defense team; the firm hit the ground running with a brief calling B.S. on one of the government’s objections.
And on Friday evening, news broke that the FBI may have again screwed the Megaupload pooch. The potential procedural goof was apparently severe enough that a federal judge wondered aloud if it might have killed the case…
A couple of decades ago, a friend was defending a case that involved a corporate entity named “LHIW, Inc.” The case seemed defensible for a while. Then, during a deposition, opposing counsel thought to ask a witness what the heck “LHIW, Inc.,” stood for.
Suffice it to say that it’s tough to defend a transaction that involves a shell company named “Let’s Hope It Works, Inc.”
Ten years ago, a company was spinning off the piece of its business that was saddled with product liability exposure. The transaction would create one new, clean company and one tainted company that would spend its days defending itself or paying claims over time. Did the internal corporate documents really have to refer to the two new entities as “GoodCo” and “CrapCo”?
Why did I flash back to those memories? Because I recently ran across a situation where someone cleverly named an investment vehicle “SNP, Inc.” That was fine and good until someone thought to ask what “SNP, Inc.,” stood for. Naturally: “Should Not Participate, Inc.”
The more things change, the more they stay the same. But I have a proposal on this front . . .
For every matter that we handle, we need one “unifying mind.” We need one person at the helm; that person must either personally know everything that’s happening in the matter or, at a minimum, know where the knowledge lies. (Extraordinary cases may be beyond the capacity of a single unifying mind and may require two or more. But those situations are exceptional, and they pose challenges beyond what I’m thinking about today.)
The unifying mind might be found anywhere in the hierarchy, depending on the type of matter involved. At a law firm, the unifying mind can be a partner, if the matter is large and the partner a hands-on type. Or the unifying mind can be an associate charged with monitoring and tracking all events. But everyone on the team should know who’s at the helm, so everyone knows the person who should receive copies of correspondence, alerts about upcoming events, and reports about how things are going.
At an in-house law department, we, too, must have a unifying mind for every matter. In the litigation world, a corporation may have several line lawyers whose job is to supervise cases on a day-to-day basis. The line lawyer primarily responsible for overseeing a particular case should typically serve as the unifying mind for that matter. Outside counsel should communicate with that person, and everyone in-house should know that’s the lawyer to call if they need detailed information about a lawsuit.
That’s all fine in theory, but two things often screw this up in practice. What two things?
Following the federal government’s raid in January 2012 on Megaupload, the company that owned and operated the notorious file-sharing site megaupload.com, the criminal case has already started making its way through the court system. The government froze the company’s assets, and the CEO is under house arrest, but Megaupload still managed to hire some high-powered, Biglaw representation. Good for them, right?
Well, maybe not. The government has objected to Quinn Emanuel entering the case to represent Megaupload. The government cites conflicts of interest.
What are the alleged conflicts? And what does Quinn have to say about the situation?
The firm just filed a saucy brief responding to the objection. Let’s just say that Quinn isn’t taking it lying down…
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 seven years. You can reach them by email: email@example.com.
It’s that time of year again when JDs are starting to apply for 2L summer jobs and 2L summers are deciding which practice area to focus on.
For those JDs with an interest in potentially lateraling to or transferring to Asia in the future, please feel free to reach out to Kinney for advice on firm choices, interviewing and practice choices, relating to future marketability in Asia, or for a general discussion on your particular Asia markets of interest. This is of course a free of cost service for those who some years in the future may be our future industry contacts or perhaps even clients.
For some years now Kinney’s Asia head, Evan Jowers, has been formally advising Harvard Law students with such questions, as the Asia expert in Harvard Law’s “Ask The Experts Market Program” each summer and fall, with podcasts and scheduled phone calls. This has been an enjoyable and productive experience for all involved.
If you are considering a virtual law practice, you know that many of today’s solo firms started that way. But why are established, multi-attorney law firms going virtual?
Many small firms are successfully moving part—or even all—of their practice to a virtual setting. This even includes multi-jurisdictional practice spanning several states and practice areas, although solo and small partnerships are still the largest adopters of virtual law.
Can you do the same? The new article Mobile in Practice, Virtual by Design from author Jared Correia, Esq., explores how mobile technology bring real-life benefits to a small law firm. Read this new article—the next in Thomson Reuters’ Independent Thinking series for small firms—to explore how a mobile practice:
Reduces malpractice risk
Enables you to gather the best attorneys to fit the firm, regardless of each person’s geographic location
Leverages mobile devices and cloud technology to enable on-the-spot client and prospect communication
Transitioning in-house is something many (if not most) firm lawyers find themselves considering at some point. For many, it’s the first step in their career that isn’t simply a function of picking the best option available based on a ranking system.
Unknown territory feels high-risk, and can have the effect of steering many of us towards the well-greased channels into large, established companies.
For those who may be open to something more entrepreneurial, there is far less information available. No recruiter is calling every week with offers and details.
In sponsorship with Betterment, ATL and David Lat will moderate a panel about life in-house and we’ll hear from GCs at Birchbox, Gawker Media, Squarespace, Bonobos, and Betterment. Drinks, snacks, networking, and a great time guaranteed. Invite your colleagues, but RSVP fast, as space is limited.