Sidley Austin

Another week has come and gone. We’re post Independence Day, so strap in for the long grind to Labor Day before you get any rest. If you need a break, I suppose you can take some summers for a 3-hour lunch, assuming anyone still does that.

But the real importance of the week’s end is that it’s time again to compile my look at some notable stories from the week in legal news. Bring on “5 Thing Friday” or “Working for the Weekend” or something like that.

This week, we had Justice Ginsburg’s declaration that she’s not retiring, the Zimmerman trial continued on its tragically absurd course, Vault released its annual law firm rankings, the NFL got burned in court — twice — and Harry Reid figured out that there’s this thing called a filibuster and the Republicans are really good at it…

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Last year, we covered the mystery departure of Lee Smolen — the prominent real estate lawyer, not the famed theoretical physicist — from Sidley Austin. It may have been related to the ethics charges filed against Smolen, accusing him of conversion and breach of fiduciary duty through alleged filing of false expense claims.

Amazingly enough, Smolen got picked up as a partner by DLA Piper. The firm admitted that it “was aware of this matter during the hiring process.”

In order to deliver to DLA’s bottom line, Smolen will need to avoid suspension or disbarment. So he has filed a response to the Illinois ethics charges against him. What does Smolen have to say for himself, and is it persuasive?

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* J. Lo has apologized for singing Happy Birthday to a repressive dictator. Many are questioning the decision to serenade an alleged violator of international human rights law, but I’m just confused why J. Lo didn’t opt for the new, copyright-free birthday song? But people are being way too tough on the President of Turkmenistan. Don’t be fooled by the rocks that he got, he’s still Gurbanguly from the block. [Breaking Energy]

* NYU Law Professor Barry Friedman and Dahlia Lithwick wonder if the progressives have another liberal agenda item to push after marriage equality. The authors cite issues like voting rights and opposition to the death penalty as traditionally liberal causes marginalized by progressives. It strikes me this article makes a lot more sense if you replace the word “progressive” with “Justice Kennedy.” [Slate]

* DLA Piper’s decision to hire Lee Smolen has raised more than a few eyebrows given the firm’s commitment to ethical billing policies. [Hellerman Baretz]

* Did the ABA just recommend an ethical violation? [New York Personal Injury Attorney Blog]

* After a week of landmark rulings and Biglaw layoffs, the importance of clerking cannot be understated. [Judicial Clerk Review]

* The Supreme Court Term feels like a distant memory, but now’s a good time to look back on it with added perspective. Courtesy of MoloLamken, here’s a great guide to the big business cases of the Supreme Court Term just ended. Download or print it, then read it at your leisure. [MoloLamken]

* An attorney left the rat race to open a pea company. But these don’t look like the peas you tried to hide under your mashed potatoes, they look like serious snack food. [Kickstarter]

Last September, we wrote about the mysterious departure of Lee Smolen from Sidley Austin. Smolen, former head of Sidley’s real estate practice in Chicago and a member of the firm’s executive committee, departed without comment or a known destination. When that happens, something interesting is usually afoot.

Earlier this month, the other white shoe dropped. A lawyer ethics commission in Illinois leveled charges against Smolen arising out of his time at Sidley.

What has he been accused of? And what does his new law firm have to say about it?

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Venue disputes aren’t normally entertaining. But then again, venue disputes don’t normally involve professional basketball players, embarrassing emails, a smattering of Biglaw firms, and delicious, delicious irony.

Former National Basketball Players Association Executive Director Billy Hunter, whose management of the union representing the NBA’s players is blamed by some for dragging out the NBA lockout that nearly derailed last season, may soon get kicked out of the venue where he filed a multimillion dollar suit last month. He’ll finally understand how the players felt.

His adversary, NBPA President Derek Fisher, has filed a motion alleging that Billy Hunter chose the venue because of his close personal relationship with the presiding judge.

It would be a shame for Hunter if they had emails to prove it.

Uh oh, Billy…

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Erika Harold

* AG Eric Holder sat down and had a little chat about what’s been going on at the Justice Department. He’s not impressed with his agency’s work, but he claims he’s not stepping down just yet. [NBC News]

* “Can you hear me now?” Oh, Verizon, what an apropos slogan you’ve got considering the latest government scandal. The NSA has been spying on you through your phone records since late April. [Guardian]

* Lawyers for Matthew Martoma still want more time to comb through millions upon millions of documents in their client’s insider trading case, but it seems rather pointless after a judge’s kiss of death. [Reuters]

* Looks like she got her wish: thanks to Judge Michael Baylson, a little girl with terminal cystic fibrosis may have a better chance at getting a longer lease on life in this donor lung transplant case. [CNN]

* Being a politician didn’t really work out so well for him, so John Edwards is going to try his hand at being a lawyer again. Just think of all of the lovely ladies he’ll be able to pick up as clients. [USA Today]

* Speaking of former public servants who are getting back into the law, Ken Salazar will be opening the Denver office of WilmerHale — and when it comes to pay, he’s got a “very good package.” [Denver Post]

* And not to be forgotten, famous flip-flopper Joe Lieberman will be taking his services to Kasowitz Benson. We certainly hope the firm will appreciate his superior legal mind. [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]

* The ABA is considering law school job data collection 10 months after graduation, instead of nine, because bar exam results come out so late. Like that extra month will help… [National Law Journal]

* Erika Harold, a Harvard Law grad and ex-Sidley associate known for her reign as Miss America, is running for Congress in Illinois. What will she she do for the talent portion of the competition? [Politico]

* There’s been a changing of the guard at Sidley Austin. Carter Phillips, one of our nation’s preeminent appellate advocates, is now the sole chair of the firm’s executive committee after a one-year stint as co-chair. Congrats! [The Recorder]

* You should really try to make the most of your summers during law school, even after your first year. Because duh, in case you weren’t aware, it’ll probably help you to get a job later on. [Law Admissions Lowdown / U.S. News & World Report]

* It looks like the trolls attorneys behind Prenda Law got benchslapped in the worst of ways — complete with a multitude of Star Trek references. We’ll likely have more on this later today. [Ars Technica]

* The California Supreme Court just ruined everyone’s high, because it ruled that cities and counties can ban medical marijuana dispensaries. Smoke ‘em while you’ve got ‘em, stoners. [Associated Press]

* Justin Bieber is being sued for copyright infringement, along with his musical mentor, Usher. Tween girl mob: ASSEMBLE! Defend your pop idol’s honor; after all, he just needed somebody to love. [Reuters]

* Some Supreme Court analysts are speculating that Justice Clarence Thomas could cast a vote to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, but at this point, that’s just about as likely as him speaking during oral arguments. [Talking Points Memo]

* When a practice group laterals out of a firm en masse, you know things were probably going on behind the scenes for a while. Apparently Bingham’s securities enforcement crew was in very high demand by other Biglaw firms. [Am Law Daily]

* Hot on the heels of a merger ménage à trois, Dentons (fka SNR Denton) is already eyeing new growth possibilities across the globe. Guess they’re down with orgies now… [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]

* “Clients don’t hire us because of our sex. They hire us because we win.” This, from Hillary Richard, one of the female name partners of a largely all-female firm. You go girl! [DealBook / New York Times]

* Silly Cooley, a “second-tier” law school by any other name would smell as stank. Our nation’s second-best law school is considering a union with Western Michigan University. [National Law Journal]

Kaye Scholer welcomes you to Flori-duh!

* It looks like it’s time for yet another rousing game of Biglaw musical chairs. This time, 11 of Bingham McCutchen’s securities enforcement partners are hightailing it over to Sidley Austin en masse. [DealBook / New York Times]

* This week in on-shore outsourcing: there may be a job waiting for you at Kaye Scholer’s new operations center (so new we bet you didn’t know about it), so hurry up and apply, because the interviews are soon. [Tallahassee Democrat]

* “We’re trained in the law and persuasion, not firearms.” But maybe you should be? After the targeted killing of attorneys in Texas, prosecutors are now on high alert. [New York Times]

* When looking at the current law school model, Paul Caron of TaxProf Blog urges law deans to take advice from Jimmy McMillan because “law school tuition is simply too damn high.” [Businessweek]

* Change our admissions practices amid the worst legal economy we’ve seen in decades? “Ain’t nobody got time for that,” scoffed Sarah Zearfoss, director of admissions at Michigan Law. [AnnArbor.com]

* Drexel Law will accept applications for its two-year law degree program in May 2014. The higher-ups at the ABA are scheduled to laugh their asses off on or about the same date. [Philadelphia Inquirer]

* “[F]or James Eagan Holmes, justice is death.” In a move that shocked absolutely no one, the prosecution in the Aurora, Colorado movie theater massacre case is seeking the death penalty. [CNN]

Opening a legal bill from DLA Piper?

Here at Above the Law, we ❤ DLA Piper. The firm makes for great copy; there’s always something funny, ridiculous, or salacious going down over there.

In fairness to DLA Piper, the craziness might not be that high on a per capita basis. DLA Piper is one of the largest law firms in the world. In the most recent Global 100 rankings, DLA took second place in both total revenue and attorney headcount.

Many of the DLA Piper stories are on the lighter side. But this latest one — involving serious allegations of overbilling, apparently supported by internal DLA emails saying things like “churn that bill, baby!” — is no laughing matter….

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