Litigators

Carter Phillips

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…

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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….

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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.

It’s a cautionary tale for litigators….

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Matthew Powers: 'pimp hands' don't knot neckties.

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….

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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…

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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 . . .

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Judge Bruce Markell

Were there ever a time to use “fail,” as the contemporary vernacular permits, it is now, and in reference to this deplorable display of legal representation: it was an epic fail.

– Judge Bruce Markell, in a recent opinion in a Las Vegas Chapter 13 bankruptcy proceeding, which concluded that the debtors’ attorneys, Barry Levinson and Jeremy Mondejar, should be sanctioned for their ineffective representation.

(What did these Cooley Law graduates allegedly do to irk Judge Markell in this way? Take a look, after the jump.)

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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?

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He’s going to try the case in court, not in the press, and I admire that.

Jeff Ashton, speaking about Mark O’Mara, who is defending George Zimmerman against murder charges in the death of Trayvon Martin. For his part, Ashton is no stranger to the spotlight. The former Florida Assistant State Attorney was the prosecutor in charge of the Casey Anthony case.

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…

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