Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan managing partner John Quinn might have had some harsh words for Faith Gay as she left his firm to start a new outfit with several colleagues, but the brief email dust-up pales in comparison to some of the most epic law firm breakups over the years.
As The American Lawyer reported last week, Quinn trained his ire at Gay after she sent a note to Quinn Emanuel staff about her impending departure to newly launched Selendy & Gay. In an email first posted by the blog Above The Law, Quinn employed such words as “deception” and “ingratitude” when describing Gay, also saying that his firm deserved credit for building Gay, a former federal prosecutor, into a “legal star.”
Gay didn’t directly respond to Quinn’s email. But in an interview with The American Lawyer before Selendy & Gay’s launch, she described her departure from Quinn Emanuel in nothing but positive terms, saying she and her new partners would continue to maintain friendships with lawyers at their old firm. And she said she anticipates that Selendy & Gay and Quinn Emanuel will partner together as co-counsel in the future. The move to a new firm, Gay said, had to do with her new partners’ desire to work in a smaller environment that they would directly control—”nothing about any displeasure.”
While Quinn’s email conveyed a clear sense of irritation, it doesn’t quite match the acrimony that’s characterized some of the less-than-amicable law firm splits of yesteryear, and a few that are still playing out. Here’s a look at a handful of those.
Personal Injury Spats: Splitting a Fortune and Fighting Over a Jingle
A few recent law firm divorces have involved personal injury lawyers at what was once Napoli Bern and what is still, for now at least, Cellino & Barnes. Napoli Bern became well-known for representing World Trade Center first responders and cleanup workers who suffered injuries while working at the site of the country’s most devastating terrorist attack. Cellino & Barnes might be best known for its widespread advertising and its catchy jingle: “Don’t wait, call eight!”—a reference to the firm’s phone number 1-800-888-8888.
In Napoli Bern’s case, the firm’s messy breakup has spanned several years and has spun out to include disputes over what to do with the firm’s clients; a fight over a $5 million donation to the National September 11 Memorial and Museum; and defamation claims arising from an alleged extramarital affair involving one of the former firm’s leading lawyers. When it was still unified, Napoli Bern helped clients secure more than $1 billion in recoveries and took in more than $100 million in legal fees from 9/11-related litigation, according to court records.
Cellino & Barnes, meanwhile, is also now embroiled in bitter litigation over its impending breakup. That dispute, which started less than a year ago, has already come to include allegations of stolen proprietary information and alleged poaching of cases and employees.
Big Law Breakups: Sexual Harassment Claims and Book-of-Business Boasts
Sparring between lawyers and their former firms is not unique to plaintiffs lawyers, and some of the country’s—and the world’s—largest defense firms have found themselves embroiled in unpleasant business splits.
In one past example, Kasowitz Benson Torres in 2008 publicized sexual harassment claims against Jeremy Pitcock, an intellectual property lawyer who had joined the firm as a partner from Simpson Thacher & Bartlett in 2006, only to be dismissed at the end of the following year. Both sides filed lawsuits against one another, but in 2009, a state court threw out the competing claims. Pitcock continues to practice at his own firm but hasn’t re-entered the world of Big Law.
More recently, Goldberg Segalla, a regional Buffalo, New York-based defense firm with revenues that could put it among the Am Law 200, has engaged in a discrete court battle against a group of lawyers that spun off to create a new midsized law firm, Gerber Ciano Kelly Brady.
While the court records in that case are mostly sealed, the New York Law Journal has reported that the two sides have a fair amount to say about each other. When the Gerber Ciano split happened, Goldberg Segalla’s managing partner Richard Cohen asserted that it wasn’t a big deal, because it involved a group of lawyers who weren’t significant business generators. That, however, prompted a retort from Daniel Gerber, who said in December that he and his partners took significant business and key insurance and corporate clients with them to their new outfit.
Trouble Overseas: A Failed Merger and Poaching Accusations
Flare-ups involving firms and departed partners aren’t just an American convention, as demonstrated in a recent case involving U.K.-based Pinsent Masons and Spanish firm Ramon & Cajal.
In late November, affiliate publication Legal Week reported on a dispute between the two firms playing out in a U.K. court. The disagreement allegedly began with merger discussions that had fizzled out in late 2016. Shortly after that, Ramon & Cajal alleged in its lawsuit, Pinsent Masons started poaching the Spanish firm’s lawyers, hiring five partners and nine associates over the first few months of 2017. That included a former Ramon & Cajal board member, Diego Lozano, who had reportedly been closely involved in the merger talks and is named as a defendant in the U.K. suit.
Ramon & Cajal alleges in the suit that Pinsent Masons breached a no-hiring agreement the two firms had struck during merger discussions and that Pinsent Masons used its access to Ramon & Cajal’s financial information to target the Spanish firm’s most profitable lawyers for recruitment.
As Legal Week noted in its coverage of the dispute, it’s not the only time a set of hires after a failed tie-up has led to bad blood. In 2008, Nixon Peabody found itself in a similar battle with European firm Taylor Wessing over a group hire in Paris that followed merger discussions.