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A former senior associate at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe has sued the firm for fraud and breach of contract, charging he was promised but then denied promotion to the partnership. In a suit filed Friday in Manhattan Supreme Court, Patrick J. Hoeffner, a former associate in San Francisco-based Orrick’s New York intellectual property practice, claims partners William Anthony, Robert Isackson and Robert Cote promised in 2002 to make him a partner because they feared he would leave the firm and take a client, Conductus, Inc., with him. “Driven by greed to obtain the millions of dollars in revenue from the Conductus litigation, Defendants engaged in a scheme to keep Plaintiff and the Conductus litigation at Orrick,” the suit charges. The scheme allegedly centered on a contract promising Hoeffner a review for partnership in 2004, with oral assurances that the review would be a “rubber stamp.” But instead of being promoted at Orrick, he was asked to leave the firm at the end of last year. Hoeffner, a 1996 graduate of St. John’s University School of Law, is now seeking more than $100 million in damages. Along with the firm, Anthony, Isackson and Cote are all named as individual defendants, as is John MacKerron, then head of Orrick’s New York office. The suit is a highly unusual one. Though scores of associates are passed over for partnership every year, there have been few suits over the process, and those that have been filed largely claim sex or race discrimination. Law firm associates and partners are employees at will and can be terminated at any time for any reason, except a discriminatory one. Orrick is taking the position that Hoeffner’s suit is an extraordinary response to an ordinary career disappointment. In a statement, J. Peter Coll, the firm’s current New York managing partner, said: “We regret that Mr. Hoeffner has reacted to the personally disappointing news that he failed to make partner at Orrick by choosing to file a baseless lawsuit.” Coll said many factors went into the firm’s partnership decisions. “Regrettably, among a pool of highly talented and skillful eligible senior associates, no law firm can assure that all will be qualified for election to partner,” he said. “That is understood by everyone who joins and works in a large law firm and certainly Mr. Hoeffner understood that.” He said the suit contained many “baseless and false” allegations and that Orrick would defend the case vigorously. Hoeffner’s lawyer, Douglas Wigdor of Thompson Wigdor & Gilly, agreed that such suits by associates are unusual but said it is equally unusual that partners would provide the sort of “ironclad agreement” he said Hoeffner had. That agreement was allegedly memorialized in a March 26, 2002, e-mail Hoeffner sent to Isackson, MacKerron and Anthony. The e-mail allegedly stated that Hoeffner’s understanding was that he could elect to be put up for partner in September 2003, with the pledged support of “at least” Anthony, Isackson and Cote. According to a copy of the alleged e-mail provided to the Law Journal, Anthony replied: “Your understanding is correct. Thank you for making the right decision!” Anthony, the Silicon Valley-based head of Orrick’s IP practice, and Cote, a New York IP partner, allegedly told Hoeffner that the firm’s executive committee gave deference to practice leaders and that all of the practice group’s associates put up for partnership were made partners. Hoeffner claims Cote likened the required executive committee vote to a rubber stamp. The suit claims the partners made the promises because Hoeffner had played a major role in a patent infringement suit in which Orrick had been representing Conductus, a cellular telecommunications technology company. In March 2002, the partner leading the Conductus case for Orrick, Lawrence Goodwin, left the firm to become a partner at New York’s Chadbourne & Parke. CONDUCTUS LITIGATION According to the suit, the partners feared Goodwin would recruit Hoeffner and take the Conductus litigation to Chadbourne & Parke. Hoeffner claims he, in fact, received a generous offer from Chadbourne & Parke, as well as one from McDermott, Will & Emery. He says he turned them both down because of the alleged contract he had with the Orrick partners. Though the suit cites the Conductus litigation as the partners’ motive for their alleged agreement with Hoeffner, it fails to note that the Conductus matter did, in fact, leave Orrick for Chadbourne & Parke, where it was handled by Goodwin. Wigdor acknowledged yesterday that Orrick had failed to achieve its aim with its offer to Hoeffner but he said the agreement predated the matter’s leaving the firm. Hoeffner claims he continued to receive regular reassurances from the defendant partners that he was on track to become a partner. The reassurances continued even when he expressed concern about the possible arrival into the practice group of lateral partners. Hoeffner claims he was concerned that the arrival of such partners would make the group top-heavy, making it more difficult to promote associates to partner. He says Cote and Anthony reassured him the firm only wanted to promote from within. But three partners from defunct New York IP boutique Pennie & Edmonds joined the firm in August 2002, increasing the number of Orrick’s New York IP partners from four to seven. The former associate claims that he was then shocked when Anthony, Isackson and Cote called him in December 2003 to tell him that he should not be put up for partner in 2004. Hoeffner claims he insisted they put him up for partner. He alleges he only learned later that he was never put up for partnership. He claims his work assignments began to dwindle halfway through 2004 and he was asked to leave in November 2004. Hoeffner is set to shortly begin work as an associate in the New York office of Fulbright & Jaworski. In his suit, he states that he was highly qualified to be a partner at Orrick, citing high billable hours, strong legal skills and good relations with clients. A partner at Orrick, who asked to remain unnamed, said Hoeffner had been well regarded at the firm but noted that partnership decisions were often based on issues unrelated to the candidate’s qualifications. He said Hoeffner’s termination came about because the associate essentially separated himself from the rest of the IP practice after he failed to make partner. Leslie D. Corwin, a partner at Greenberg Traurig specializing in partnership disputes, said, given the tiny number of partners to emerge from any associate class, most associates should “know from day one that they’re playing a numbers game.” But he acknowledged that those who actually put in the years could be very bitter. He said firms were generally aware of the danger and tried to be up front with associates about their chances. The Orrick partner said the firm did generally discuss the unpredictability of the partnership process with associates starting from the fifth year, but he said it was possible the message had not gotten through to Hoeffner. But Wigdor said Orrick had used the partnership carrot with Hoeffner in bad faith. “It’s the Holy Grail for an associate to become a partner,” he said. “When a firm uses that grail as leverage to prevent someone from going someplace else, they should be held accountable.”

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