Partner Issues

Isn’t Jewel v. Boxer a great case name? Doesn’t it sound like one of the classics of the 1L curriculum, right up there with Pierson v. Post, Hawkins v. McGee, and International Shoe?

It is definitely a case that lawyers ought to know. This appellate decision, handed down by a California court in 1984, remains the leading case on how to divvy up attorneys’ fees generated by cases that were still in progress at the time of a law firm’s dissolution. Dewey care about this case? Absolutely.

But Jewel might not maintain its status as the key precedent on so-called “unfinished business,” at least if one judge has anything to say about it. Check out an interesting ruling that just came down from the Southern District of New York, arising out of one of the biggest Biglaw bankruptcies of recent years….

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As we mentioned in the Labor Day edition of Morning Docket, there’s some interesting news on the Dewey & LeBoeuf front. The one former Dewey partner being sued by Citibank for allegedly defaulting on a capital loan — energy lawyer Steven Otillar, now a partner in the Houston office of Akin Gump — is opposing Citi’s attempt to collect on the debt, by arguing that he was “fraudulently induced” to borrow the money in question.

How much are we talking about? How does the debt compare to Otillar’s compensation while at Dewey? And what are Otillar’s specific allegations about “fraudulent inducement”?

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I recently met a young-ish female in-house counsel. She was a Biglaw refugee, married with an eye to starting a family, who had jumped at the chance to go in-house rather than submit to the particular pleasures of the partnership push. We got to talking, and while my instinct told me to go into sell mode, I decided to play things more coolly. A lot of active listening on my part ensued, as I was subjected to various and sundry complaints about life as a female Biglaw associate, followed by a discourse on how much better in-house life was. I kept the conversation light, injecting some shots at Biglaw (these met with laughter and approval), while letting her do most of the talking. I was consciously avoiding acting like a Biglaw partner, or showing any interest in her because of her status as potential client.

Things became interesting when she started discussing her dissatisfaction with her current outside counsel. Various and sundry became a litany, as she complained about the male partner’s inattention to her, the sloppy work of the female associate she was dealing with, and the size of the bills. Most importantly, she complained of feeling unappreciated by the Biglaw firm she was using — and suspected that the lawyers working for her actually hated her. She did not want to feel hated. I can’t blame her — nor would I be shocked if she switched firms in the near future.

We eventually parted ways, but like a good Biglaw partner, I followed up with an email and my contact info. The email differed from what I would send a male in-house counsel after an introductory meeting. My email to the in-house lawyer was much less formal, and was actually jokey — but I wanted to stick with what was apparently working in terms of getting her to open up to me. It worked, as she replied right away with a joke of her own, and warm acknowledgement of how it was good to meet. Looking good — until I decided to experiment with something….

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Angelica Cecora

Ed. note: Due to the Labor Day holiday, we’ll be on a reduced publication schedule today. We’ll be back to normal tomorrow. A restful and happy Labor Day to all!

* The lone ex-Dewey partner who was sued by Citibank for defaulting on his capital loan is fighting back, claiming that he was “fraudulently induced” into signing up for the plan even though the bank knew that the S.S. D&L was sinking. [Reuters]

* If you’re trying to avoid additional questions being raised about your alleged bad behavior, a resignation amid scandal isn’t the way to do it. Suzanne Barr, the ICE official accused of running a federal “frat house,” has quit her job. [New York Daily News]

* A federal judge taught the members of the Louisiana Supreme court that the year 1994 did, in fact, occur before the year 1995. Justice Bernette Johnson will now ascend to the rank of chief justice. [Times-Picayune]

* Because we’re all a little hopeless these days: given the bleak realities of our economic situation, perhaps it’s finally time to change the standard for a discharge of student loan debt in bankruptcy. [New York Times]

* “The groups that attempt to rank schools are involved in a lot of hogwash.” Even if that’s the case, people are still going to care about the University of Illinois’s rankings nosedive after the Paul Pless to-do. [News-Gazette]

* Don’t be scared by the absurd tuition rates or the abysmal job prospects, because law school is still a great investment for African-Americans — and for law schools in search of diversity, too. [National Law Journal]

* “[T]hat a lawyer would take this kind of case is shocking.” Sadly, it’s not. Angelica Marie Cecora, the alleged escort who filed a $5M suit against Oscar de la Hoya, now has to pay all of his legal fees. [New York Post]

Releasing a book may not bring you fame or fortune, but it surely brings you interesting e-mails. I devoted last Thursday’s column to an e-mail I received from a reader of the Inside Straight book asking whether law firms undervalue good lawyering. I’m devoting this column to an e-mailed reaction posing a different question: Must a lawyer specialize if he or she hopes to develop business effectively?

My correspondent (who again is a partner at an Am Law 100 firm and again gave me permission to edit and reproduce his or her words anonymously) wrote: “Your case study of how you developed a pharmaceutical product liability practice (when you worked at a big firm) says as much by implication as it does expressly. You’re implicitly asserting that one develops business more effectively by showing that you’re a specialist in a field the client needs rather than saying that you have a fungible skill. But I suspect that your true value as a lawyer was largely unrelated to your business development pitch in which you pretended that you were a specialist.

“Ultimately, what you brought to the table in private practice wasn’t a nearly 30-year career in pharmaceutical products law. You brought a vast wealth of experience gleaned from cases that had nothing to do with the area of law that, at a particular time, happened to govern specific cases.

“It pains me that lawyers feel compelled to become specialists — or, at a minimum, to pretend that they’re specialists — if they want to develop business . . . . ”

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Kim Kardashian

* Apparently spring bonuses don’t make the Biglaw world go ’round after all. The annual Am Law midlevel survey is out, and satisfaction levels are up across the board. Maybe they’re happy to still be employed. [American Lawyer]

* When Dewey get to retire this used up, old D&L pun? Probably around the same time as that Howrey joke — never. Oh, and the firm asked a bankruptcy judge to approve its $70M partner “clawback” plan. [WSJ Law Blog]

* Oh mon dieu, it’s time for some law firm merger mania! DLA Piper, the second-largest Biglaw behemoth, proposed to French firm Frieh Bouhenic, and of course, the corporate boutique said “oui.” [Legal Week]

* Judicial efficiency: Judge Robert Hinkle says he’ll block Florida’s regulations on voter registration groups just as soon as an appeals court boots the state’s arguments. [Bloomberg]

* Judge Kenneth Lester Jr. will step down as judge in the George Zimmerman case after using “disparaging” language in a bail order. Zimmerman’s probably hoping that the third judge will be the charm for him. [CNN]

* Kim Kardashian settled her suit against The Gap over the company’s use of a look-alike actress in an Old Navy commercial. Sigh. She’ll keep getting paid, no matter what we do. [Hollywood, Esq. / Hollywood Reporter]

Who is the Godzilla of law firms?

A few weeks from now — in October, to be more precise — the American Lawyer will announce the Global 100. This is Am Law’s list of the world’s 100 largest law firms, ranked by total revenue.

As a teaser of sorts, the magazine just revealed which firm will sit atop the 2012 rankings. Can you guess which one?

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Ed. note: This is the second column in a series by Anonymous Partner focusing on the issues facing women in the legal profession. You can read the first column here.

Biglaw partners sell their time and attention to clients who want legal help. Partners devote plenty of thought and attention to the mechanics of selling — the how, the what, and even the why regarding client’s selection of counsel. Biglaw firms rightfully obsess about these issues, spending untold sums on robust marketing departments, consultants, and the like, in the hopes that their partners will magically all become rainmakers (or at least adept “cross-sellers”).

But while the how, what, and why of rainmaking get a lot of attention, there is a glaring lack of attention and discussion of the “who” — as in, who are the people making the decisions to purchase the gold-plated services offered by Biglaw. You would think determining the profiles of your target customers, and targeting sales approaches accordingly, would be an important endeavor for a professional-services outfit. You would also think that Biglaw firms would discuss with their current and future rainmakers strategies for appealing to various types of purchasers of Biglaw services. Neither of the Biglaw firms I have been a partner at have done so — at least when it comes to adopting different approaches to pitching female in-house counsel. I would bet my experience is typical.

What does this have to do with “Biglaw Lady Issues”? Easy. While the statistics tell us that women — in part because of the challenges posed by the timeline I discussed last week, among other factors — are not really moving the needle much in terms of becoming Biglaw equity partners, there is no doubt that they are entering Biglaw in substantial numbers, and leaving to take in-house positions — again in substantial numbers. As Old School Partner reminded us, Biglaw is within a lifetime of being a “men’s only” club. Those days are over, as are the days when someone like Old School Partner could build a firm of men selling to male-run businesses with exclusively-male in-house counsel. But nobody really talks about the impact that the increasing number of female in-house counsel do (and should) have on Biglaw marketing efforts and client retention. Seems crazy that this is the case….

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* Patton Boggs partner Benjamin Ginsberg serves as the Mitt Romney campaign’s top lawyer, and he’s taking flak for GOP rules revisions that have been likened to “killing a fly with a sledgehammer.” [Am Law Daily]

* “I am still shocked that I did everything right and find myself on the brink of destitution.” This just in from the Things Everyone Already Knew Desk: even law firms have been hit hard by the recession. [Washington Times]

* The lead lawyer in the inquisition against Madam Justice Lori Douglas turned in a resignation letter. Perhaps he grew tired of being part of judicial farce that’s spread wider than Her Honor’s legs. [Canadian Press]

* Penn State Dickinson School of Law might not be losing its accreditation, but it will be reducing enrollment and consolidating all first-year classes at its University Park campus. [Central Penn Business Journal]

* A would-be law student wants to know if he has a good chance of getting into a top 20 school with a low 150s LSAT and an average GPA. You’ll get in everywhere you apply! [Law Admissions Lowdown / U.S. News]

* Roger Fisher, Harvard Law School professor and co-author of “Getting to Yes,” RIP. [WSJ Law Blog]

“In accepting the offer to join Ropes & Gray, Ray accepted Roscoe Trimmier’s assurances that Ropes ‘does not see black and white, only shades of Ropes & Gray.’”

That’s paragraph 75 from the latest complaint filed by John H. Ray III, a 2000 graduate of Harvard Law School and an African-American man, against his former employer, Ropes & Gray. According to Ray, the firm, after initially embracing him with open arms, turned on him. Ray claims that he was subjected to racial discrimination and retaliation, which made his time at the firm more painful than pleasurable. And, unlike Anastasia Steele of Fifty Shades of Grey (affiliate link), Ray did not enjoy the alleged abuse.

When we first wrote about Ray, he was proceeding pro se against Ropes & Gray. Now he has hired counsel — an experienced employment-discrimination litigator who has appeared before in these pages.

Let’s find out who’s representing John Ray, and take a closer look at the complaint — which features an Above the Law shout-out, interestingly enough….

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