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Revenge tastes sweet, at least at first. The day after Latham & Watkins trumpeted its acquisition of Pillsbury partner Frode Jensen in early September, Pillsbury Winthrop fired off a press release designed to “correct the record” on the mergers and acquisitions expert, referring to an investigation involving allegations of sexual harassment and noting that Jensen hadn’t been the most productive partner of late. Usually when partners lateral to another firm, their former firm simply says — though sometimes through proverbially clenched teeth — that it wishes the departing partner well and that the loss won’t have much effect on the firm. Sometimes you can tell, by reading between the lines of the lukewarm statements, that there’s probably more to the story. But Pillsbury positively luxuriated in its bitter, mean-spirited swipe at Jensen. “Mr. Jensen’s move is probably in the best interest of all concerned,” the press release sniped. And firm heads Mary Cranston and Marina “I hate doing this” Park didn’t back off their self-righteous position as the legal community reeled and the media made hay in the following days. Cranston told the Connecticut Law Tribune, a Recorder affiliate, that she wasn’t concerned that the press release was actionable “because it’s the truth.” Park told The New York Times that the “press release is out there and makes the point we want to make.” This week, Jensen struck back. He filed a suit seeking $45 million that accuses Pillsbury and Cranston, Park and another top manager of “character and commercial assassination.” The 24-page complaint is chockablock with juicy details. Like an accident on the interstate, it’s hard to tear your eyes away from Jensen’s salacious descriptions of the “unrealistic focus of senior management � on achieving American Lawyer 100 ‘first quartile profitability,’” “serious financial problems” and “widespread morale problems” at Pillsbury. Now we know why firms resist the urge to slam exiting partners, no matter how justified. Nobody wants to risk having their laundry — whether it’s dirty or not — aired in the inevitable resulting lawsuit. What could have motivated Pillsbury to break from protocol — and common sense — and issue such a release? From what we can glean from the press release and Jensen’s suit, there was a sexual harassment investigation that led to a third party leaving Pillsbury in December. From the “Separation Agreement” cited in Jensen’s suit, it sounds as if the firm paid off the third party and showed that individual the door. If the firm stood by Jensen during this incident, it must have rankled when only a few months later he announced he was jumping to a larger firm where he was going to make more money. Whatever was going on, the press release appears to have been a shoot-from-the-hip reaction. It was issued the day after Latham’s announcement, so clearly nobody thought to give it a day or two to see if the firm still wanted to release it once everyone calmed down. And who knows whether the press release would have gone out had not Crystal Rockwood, Pillsbury’s longtime marketing manager, been on vacation. Perhaps there just were no cooler heads to prevail in the room that day. Jensen claims in his suit that Pillsbury blasted him because the firm was worried about how his departure would look to potential hires. There may be some truth to that — Park told the Connecticut Law Tribune that the firm had “received third-party feedback that the perception of Jensen’s departure could hurt the firm’s ability to attract lateral partners.” Even if Pillsbury didn’t think highly of Jensen, as its press release disdainfully makes clear, the firm may have feared his departure would underscore other recent defections. In June, Stephen Stublarec, a high-profile litigator who had served on Pillsbury’s executive committee, jumped to Latham. And this week, Kenneth Chiate, a litigation rainmaker who served several terms on Pillsbury’s executive committee and helped smooth the transition with two of the firm’s mergers — Lillick & McHose in 1991 and Winthrop, Stimson, Putnam & Roberts in 2001 — announced plans to join Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges. Pillsbury’s press release clearly was designed to put some kind of spin control on Jensen’s departure. But whatever the motivation, the press release emits a stench of desperation, nature’s worst cologne. (Apologies to Cameron Crowe.) We may never know for sure, but we can’t help but think that Pillsbury’s infamous press release will ultimately have exactly the opposite effect the firm desired. How the firm treated Jensen, as well as his claims of myriad problems within the firm — true or not — are going to give pause to any partner considering making a jump to Pillsbury. It doesn’t take long for revenge to take on a sour aftertaste.

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