Partner Issues

Earlier this week, we wrote about a pair of prominent partners at Skadden Arps who got hit with a big-time benchslap. A federal judge in Chicago issued an order to show cause, requiring the Skadden lawyers to explain why they should not be sanctioned for failing to cite a highly relevant (arguably dispositive) Seventh Circuit case when briefing a motion to dismiss. The judge also set “a status hearing in open court…. [at which the attorneys] are all directed to appear in person.”

The Skadden partners filed a contrite response. They apologized profusely to the court, explained why they viewed the Seventh Circuit as distinguishable, and argued that even though they erred, their conduct didn’t merit sanctions. They announced to the court that they had settled the case in question, with Skadden “contributing to the settlement amount in order to personally redress plaintiffs’ counsel for responding to the motion to dismiss.” (In a classy move, they also extracted their associate from under the bus, explaining that he played no substantive role in the briefing.)

Despite the apology and the settlement, the status hearing went forward as scheduled yesterday. What happened?

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Everybody’s a comedian.

Can you imagine what would happen if somebody who used to be an extra on Saturday Night Live tried to make a go of it as a Biglaw associate? I think it would be a spectacular failure. Law firms don’t usually reward things like “creativity” and “humor.” Biglaw values drones, and in many situations, you have to check your personality at the door.

But what if you got in on the “ground floor” of a firm that was growing into a Biglaw power? If you got lucky, you might stick, things might work out for you. And in that happy circumstance, you might end up being a partner in Biglaw who can let your personality flourish in all sorts of ways.

Today, we have a story about that kind of would-be comedian turned law firm partner. And somebody gave him an email account….

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* “The bottom line is … I’m the 800-pound-gorilla that you want to settle with.” By the way, if you weren’t sure, Howrey’s trustee Allan Diamond wasn’t kidding about suing the firm’s former partners. “Either we’re going to cut deals, or I’m suing you.” [Am Law Daily]

* It takes two to do the partnership tango: in the expansion of its Financial Institutions Group, Goodwin Procter picked up Brynn Peltz, an attorney with more than 20 years’ experience, and an ex-partner at Latham and Clifford Chance. [Fort Mill Times]

* Hello, predictive coding! Goodbye, jobs! Not only can computers do the work of lawyers on the cheap, but they can do it more intelligently, too. Get ready to welcome our new digital overlords. [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]

* Another day, another op-ed article about the law school crisis in the pages of the New York Times. But at least this one is about something most can support: changing the third year of law school. [New York Times]

* As it turns out, with 82 applications for the program’s first five spots, there’s actually a demand for Yale Law’s Ph.D. in Law. So much for this being “[t]he worst idea in the history of legal education.” [National Law Journal]

* Linebacker Jonathan Vilma’s defamation suit against NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in connection with Bountygate was dismissed. Wonder when Goodell will suspend Vilma for thinking he could win. [Bloomberg]

* Francis Lorson, former chief deputy clerk of the Supreme Court, RIP. [Blog of Legal Times]

I wrote last week about ideas to build a book of business. My main point was to start small and branch out from there. I mentioned how, as a young and naïve (ok, ignorant) associate, I was quickly disabused of the idea that I would soon be able to waltz into Pfizer and pick up some strands of litigation.

Then I received the following email in my Gmail account. It is a well-written counterpoint to my argument. A partner in New York City argues that starting small is a recipe for staying small.

I reprint his email (largely unedited) below….

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* The early numbers for the Am Law 100 are in, and it looks like Husch Blackwell’s gross revenue grew by six percent in 2012 after a two-year decline. Hmm… perhaps the firm is saving money by cutting back on its rejection letter proofreaders. [Am Law Daily]

* “If I can’t settle with any of those parties, I will sue them.” Howrey’s trustee, Allan Diamond, plans to sue former partners of the failed firm with a vengeance — and quite “quickly” — if they refuse to cooperate with him. [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]

* Speaking of bankrupt law firms, former Dewey partner Steven Otillar may proceed with his various claims against Citibank over the repayment of his $209K capital contribution loan. [Thomson Reuters News & Insight]

* Anyone remember Amy McTeer, the attorney who doubled as an apparent model for “faces of meth”? She resigned from the bar after allegedly helping her boyfriend escape from jail. Classy! [National Law Journal]

* Carmen Ortiz, the U.S. Attorney whose name was dragged through the mud after Aaron Swartz’s suicide, claims she intended to recommend only a six-month sentence for the deceased internet hero. [Bloomberg]

We frequently discuss the various issues that women face in Biglaw. Whether it’s a lack of salary parity, a lack of leadership roles, a lack of understanding that sometimes women have babies, or a lack of opportunities for promotion to partner, women just can’t seem to get the respect that they deserve.

And maybe that’s just because, like it or not, much of Biglaw is still a good ol’ boys’ club. After all, it’s not too often you hear men complaining about the fact that they’ve been passed over for partner year after year after year, or that they aren’t paid on par with their female colleagues.

One major firm’s satellite office seems to be a case study on this subject….

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The Beresford, at 211 Central Park West.

Renowned diplomat Richard Holbrooke, who came very close to becoming Secretary of State, passed away in December 2010. His wife, noted journalist Kati Marton, recently sold the magnificent apartment they shared at the Beresford, the legendary prewar co-op on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

Over the years, as noted in the building’s Wikipedia entry, the Beresford has been called home by such celebrities as “comedian Jerry Seinfeld, singer Diana Ross, tennis player John McEnroe, Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit, actor Tony Randall, and musician Laura Nyro.” (I was going to say that Nyro’s publicist must be a Wikipedia admin, but it seems that Nyro passed away back in 1997.)

UPDATE (1/16/2013, 11:45 AM): We just heard from a longtime Beresford resident who advises us that Diana Ross never lived in the building (although the Diana Ross Playground is across the street).

Now the Beresford will be graced by a former Biglaw partner, who bought Holbrooke’s home for an eight-figure sum. Sharing an elevator with Jerry Seinfeld will be….

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On the transactional side, things seem to be going gangbusters for Skadden Arps. As we noted yesterday, the firm took the top spot in three separate rankings of 2012 M&A work. In 2011, a different firm sat atop each set of rankings, but in 2012, Skadden ruled them all.

On the litigation side, though, the new year has brought new headaches for Skadden. Earlier this month, a high-profile partner at the firm, along with another partner and an associate, got hit with a big benchslap. A federal judge issued an order to show cause, asking the Skadden lawyers to explain why they should not be sanctioned, and set “a status hearing in open court…. [at which the attorneys] are all directed to appear in person.” Ouch.

Skadden recently filed its response to the OSC. Let’s review the benchslap, then see what the Skadden lawyers had to say for themselves….

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Last week I spoke with an In-House Insider, a Biglaw refugee turned in-house counsel. You can see what our Insider has to say about the state of Biglaw and client relations here and below.

As with the initial installment, the only changes I made to the Insider’s words were those done to protect their identity, and the Insider was given the opportunity to revise their points once I added the questions and commentary.

Again, I thank the Insider for the candid observations and thoughtful opinions on these core issues. Now, on to the discussion….

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The grass isn’t quite this green in the ‘new normal.’

In a piece from last month, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wondered: Is Growth Over? One could very easily take this question, posed with respect to the broader economy, and apply it to the world of large law firms.

And what would the answer be? According to a client advisory just issued by Citi Private Bank and Hildebrandt Consulting, “Probably.”

Their analysis is gloomy, although guardedly so; we’re not talking about “the sky is falling” pronouncements. Let’s take a look at the specifics….

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