Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
It’s been two and a half years since Douglas Rosenthal filed an $8.5 million suit against his former firm, Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal. But last week, the ex-Sonnenschein antitrust partner finally got the chance to start telling his story to a D.C. Superior Court jury. The trial not only offers a rare glimpse into the inner workings of a major law firm’s partner compensation policy, it also offers a chance to see some top litigators in action. Constantine Cannon’s Gary Malone and one of its founding partners, Robert Begleiter — both from New York — argued for Rosenthal, while Michele Roberts, a partner in the D.C. office of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, and James Hamilton, a partner in Bingham McCutchen’s D.C. office, represented Sonnenschein. Rosenthal (who is not related to the Rosenthal in his former firm’s name) claims he wasn’t fairly compensated for representing the families of those killed in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Rosenthal says that work brought the firm a windfall of $17 million. He also says he’s owed origination credit for work the firm handled for Sun Microsystems that resulted in $20 million in fees. Sonnenschein filed a counterclaim against Rosenthal seeking more than $300,000 in legal fees it says it incurred while battling a separate dispute with Rosenthal in a New York federal court. The following is a day-by-day account of last week’s proceedings. The trial, presided over by Judge Melvin Wright, is expected to last through this week. DAY 1, MARCH 11 Opening arguments started at about 10:15 a.m. For nearly an hour, Malone argued that Sonnenschein breached its written partnership agreement and oral agreements with Rosenthal. Malone told the jury that Rosenthal — who picked up the Pan Am 103 case on contingency while a lawyer at Coudert Bros. — achieved a “great legal triumph” for the flight’s victims. He described Rosenthal as the type of lawyer who would sacrifice himself for his clients. Malone said eventually Sonnenschein put pressure on Rosenthal to abandon the Pan Am case and focus on more profitable corporate clients. Malone also touched on Rosenthal’s other claim against Sonnenschein — that he never received origination credit for work he did on behalf of Sun Microsystems in an antitrust suit against Microsoft. In her opening remarks, Roberts, speaking for Sonnenschein, tore down the depiction of Rosenthal as a self-sacrificial lawyer. She said that Sonnenschein supported the Libya work — providing Rosenthal with 129 staff members to help. “We’re here witnessing Doug Rosenthal’s efforts to squeeze money, his efforts to grab money, from his former law firm,” Roberts said. Roberts also outlined Sonnenschein’s counterclaim against Rosenthal. She said it stems from Rosenthal’s attempt to get $1.6 million in fees from one of his Pan Am clients credited to Constantine Cannon when he left Sonnenschein. After successfully fighting Rosenthal in New York federal court for the fees, Sonnenschein is now seeking reimbursement for the $300,000 it says it spent on the New York case. The rest of the afternoon consisted of Begleiter’s direct examination of Rosenthal. Before joining Sonnenschein in 1994, Rosenthal said he made it clear that he wouldn’t join unless he could continue doing the Libya work. Rosenthal said the firm’s managing partner at the time, Errol Stone, also orally promised to compensate him for the 600 hours he spent on the case as a lawyer at Coudert. DAY 2, MARCH 12 Begleiter took the jury — six women and four men — through the key details of Sonnenschein’s partner compensation policy. Rosenthal said Sonnenschein had an open compensation policy, allowing each partner to see how much money the others made. It operated in two-year cycles with attention paid primarily to billing credit and origination, realization of fees, and billable hours. In 1998, Rosenthal said he stopped receiving billable hour credit for his work on the Libya case. Then, in spring 2002, Rosenthal said Caryl Potter III, then-managing partner of Sonnenschein’s Washington office, stripped him of authority over the case. In an e-mail, Potter said he was “fed up” with dealing with the case. The reason, Rosenthal said, was because it wasn’t yet generating any fees. Even after Libya signed a settlement agreement in October 2002, Rosenthal said he wasn’t rewarded. In fact, his compensation for 2003 and 2004 plummeted $25,000. And in 2005, Rosenthal said he was told firm policy dictated he had to retire, since he would be turning 65. (Rosenthal is now 68.) Just after 3:30 p.m., Roberts launched into her cross-examination. In an hour, she slammed Rosenthal with 15 different documents in which Rosenthal appeared to contradict earlier testimony. DAY 3, MARCH 13 Roberts continued to try to pick apart Rosenthal’s credibility. She showed the jury an e-mail written by Rosenthal in which he declared he had worked 100 hours on the Libya case prior to joining the firm — not 600, as he had earlier testified. Before the court recessed for lunch, Roberts produced a self-evaluation form that Rosenthal submitted to firm management in 2002. In it, Rosenthal said he was “glad to have Potter’s involvement [on the Libya case].” (In earlier testimony, Rosenthal had said he was depressed in 2002 because Potter had stripped him of authority over the case.) DAY 4, MARCH 14 Roberts produced an e-mail from summer 2005 sent to Rosenthal from firm leaders. It notified Rosenthal that Sonnenschein was considering eliminating age-mandated retirement, and that until a final decision was made, all requests for partnership-extension were being put on hold. (This seemed to contradict Rosenthal’s earlier testimony that he was told he had to leave at age 65, and that his request to extend his partnership beyond that had been denied.) At the start of Begleiter’s redirect examination, Rosenthal said the new policy could have been worse than an age-mandated retirement, since it would allow an equity partner to be terminated at any time without cause. Rosenthal testified that Sonnenschein has since implemented that new policy.
Marisa McQuilken can be contacted at [email protected]. Intern W.J. Hennigan contributed to this report.

This content has been archived. It is available through our partners, LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law.

To view this content, please continue to their sites.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Not a Bloomberg Law Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law are third party online distributors of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law customers are able to access and use ALM's content, including content from the National Law Journal, The American Lawyer, Legaltech News, The New York Law Journal, and Corporate Counsel, as well as other sources of legal information.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

Reprints & Licensing
Mentioned in a Law.com story?

License our industry-leading legal content to extend your thought leadership and build your brand.


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.