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Kirkland & Ellis has buried the hatchet with Chicago’s Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg. More than a decade ago, Neal, Gerber went after Kirkland in a battle over the estate of George Halas Jr., whose family owned the Chicago Bears football team. Neal, Gerber successfully charged Kirkland with bad faith and breach of fiduciary duties. Yet now, the firm has hired Kirkland to defend it in a malpractice suit arising from a fight over another Chicago family fortune. Kirkland is defending Neal, Gerber in a suit filed by Liesel and Matthew Pritzker, siblings who accuse their father and others of cutting them out of their share of a $15 billion family fortune. The feud between the firms dates to the 1980s, when Kirkland represented the executor of Halas’ estate. Neal, Gerber, led by name partner Marshall Eisenberg, represented Halas’ children, his ex-wife and an executor. In 1984 Kirkland was removed as the executor’s counsel for, among other things, improperly taking money out of the estate to pay itself. Apparently not cowed, Kirkland sued the estate to get paid $957,099.05. Neal, Gerber argued Kirkland shouldn’t get a penny. Kirkland had breached its fiduciary duties by failing to protect the beneficiaries’ interests, it said. Neal, Gerber also accused Kirkland of overstaffing, noting that 77 Kirkland lawyers had billed the estate. An Illinois trial court agreed with Neal, Gerber and found that Kirkland acted in bad faith, had a conflict of interest and breached its fiduciary duties. Still, it awarded the firm $535,000 in fees. In 1988 a state appellate court upheld the decision. In the Pritzker fight, Liesel, 20, and Matthew, 22, claim in their May filing in the Circuit Court of Cook County that 165-lawyer Neal, Gerber represented them at the same time that it orchestrated a “malicious scheme” that restructured family trusts and diminished their interests by at least $1 billion. They also claim that partner Eisenberg got an $11 million to $15 million personal bonus in a secret offshore account for his work on this project. (Liesel and Matthew previously sued Eisenberg last year, in an action against their father and others.) Liesel is represented by Lazar Raynal at McDermott, Will & Emery, and Matthew is represented by Dan Webb of Winston & Strawn. Jerry Biederman, managing partner of Neal, Gerber, did not return a call, nor did Eisenberg. James Nowacki, a Kirkland & Ellis partner representing Neal, Gerber, also stayed mum. In a court filing, Neal, Gerber argues the siblings’ claims are barred by the statute of limitations. It also states that the malpractice claim must be dismissed because there’s been no finding that any improper actions have harmed the siblings. In addition, it says that any payments to Eisenberg were “proper.” Susan Beck is a San Francisco-based senior writer for The American Lawyer.

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