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JUST PUT THE KIWI POLISH ON YOUR EXPENSE SHEET In the now infamous memo drafted by Clifford Chance’s New York associates, the attorneys demanded better working conditions, more respect and, curiously, free shoe shines for all. But while a good boot polish has the power to rally Manhattan associates to the barricades, the issue is less explosive in San Francisco. In an informal survey undertaken by The Recorder, San Francisco law firms showed little support for subsidized shines. “Here people are responsible for shining their own shoes,” says Stuart Lipton, the managing partner at Howard, Rice, Nemerovski, Canady, Falk & Rabkin. Ditto at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, Morrison & Foerster and Fenwick & West. “I cannot imagine at-desk shoe-shining ever being a perk available at MoFo, and it’s one of the few perks I’ve never had anyone ask for,” said Chairman Keith Wetmore. “We’ll do pet insurance first.” Some attorneys ascribed the lesser importance San Franciscans place on a complementary shine to cultural differences between the two coastal cities. “I used to practice in New York and there always used to be guys who would come in and walk the halls and shine people’s shoes,” said Lipton. “I haven’t seen that here.” To be sure, there are several well-established shoe-shine stands dotting the sidewalks of downtown San Francisco. But many attorneys shun these open-air buffing operations, calling them the province of investment bankers. In fact, Lipton, along with other San Francisco attorneys, maintain that they do their own shining in the privacy of their own homes. — Alexei Oreskovic WOMEN MENTORS With men outnumbering women two to one among lawyers in Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe’s Silicon Valley offices, finding a female mentor can be a tough task for female associates. Katerina Demeti, a senior associate, wants to make it a little easier for Heller’s female lawyers to talk among themselves, and not only about the choices they face because they’re women but the issues they’re up against because they’re lawyers. She’s begun putting together a women’s group in the Valley office, modeled after a similar effort undergoing revival in the firm’s San Francisco office. Meetings will be forums for discussing business development as well as balancing work and family. “For me, it became interesting the minute I became a mom and I realized my issues are different from those of my male colleagues,” Demeti said, adding that with perhaps a few exceptions, “they’re not the ones with the main responsibility for their kids.” — Renee Deger LOYALTY V. CONFLICT For Morrison & Foerster, the choice was obvious. It couldn’t represent China in the 2008 Summer Olympics while speaking against the Chinese government in U.S. courts. So after putting in a bid to represent the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympiad Games, MoFo turned over its Tibetan asylum cases to other law firms, including Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe. But the move has riled the Tibet Justice Center, which regards it as a breach of loyalty to the Tibetan cause. “Our concern was not that Tibetan clients would be abandoned,” said Dennis Cusack, president of the Oakland-based center and a partner at Farella Braun & Martel. “It was about the decision of giving up on clients for the sake of appeasing the government of China, which had persecuted their clients.” But MoFo, which has worked with the center on asylum cases since it was founded in 1988, said it simply acted to avoid conflicts. “We were concerned that [the asylum cases] would give rise to business conflicts given the high profile of the Olympic representation and the nature of the allegations that are raised in Chinese refugee cases,” said MoFo Chairman Keith Wetmore. “Accordingly, in a handful — five or fewer cases depending on if they were active — we found replacement counsel. “I don’t think that this firm needs to defend itself about taking controversial cases,” Wetmore added. Cusack said he learned in August that MoFo was dropping the Tibetan cases because of a business conflict. It wasn’t until recently when MoFo was chosen as international legal counsel to the Beijing Organizing Committee that he discovered the nature of the conflict. Cusack wrote a letter to Wetmore in early August asking him to reconsider handing off the asylum cases. “From the point of view of your firm’s business ambitions in China, the calculation is not hard to make,” Cusack wrote. “Please, though, step outside of your management shoes for a moment and view this from a broader perspective. This is not a conflict issue. You have been presented with a loyalty test.” The Tibet Justice Center was founded by a group of lawyers, including Michael van Walt van Praag, legal adviser to the office of the Dalai Lama. Originally called the International Committee of Lawyers for Tibet, the group provides immigration and asylu m help for Tibetans. Cusack said the group has won asylum for at least a dozen Tibetans in the past year. — Brenda Sandburg BANKRUPTCY DREAMS While the bankruptcy bar is hard at work representing victims of the economic downturn, the next generation of bankruptcy attorneys will soon have a chance to show the world their mettle. In the law school equivalent of the spelling bee, the country’s future insolvency experts will square off at the only national moot court competition dedicated to bankruptcy law. The American Bankruptcy Institute, which hosts the event with St. John’s University School of Law, recently announced that the finals will be held in March at Manhattan’s storied Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Students from more than 20 law schools compete in two or three-person teams and are judged on oral arguments and written briefs, by a five-person panel of real-life bankruptcy judges and appellate court justices. The competition, now in its 11th year, is a remarkable educational experience for all those involved, says St. John’s professor Robert Zinman, who is organizing the event. While the advocates are still students, judges hearing the arguments don’t pull punches in their line of questioning, says Zinman, and the cases being argued are on the cutting edge. Last year’s bankruptcy case, supposedly in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, involved airline insolvency and the use of government bailout funds in the wake of the Sept. 11th attacks. This year, Zinman said, the case will likely revolve around issues that arise in high-profile Chapter 11 cases like Enron Corp. Perhaps the only real-world experience the aspiring bankruptcy attorneys won’t get is a U.S. trustee vetting their time sheets and slashing their fees. — Alexei Oreskovic

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