Litigation services company Barnes & Roberts has sued former employee Jonathan Andron and wants to bar him from working for or consulting with Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld on anything competitive with the services offered by B&R, whose target market is patent litigation.
According to an Oct. 2 stipulation of facts jointly filed by B&R and Andron, Andron has accepted an offer of employment from Akin Gump to become the fourth member of its in-house trial presentation department.
Andron joined Dallas-based Barnes & Roberts (B&R) in 2005 and was hired, in part, because of his skills in computer graphics and computer coding, especially “2D and 3D computer animation and website design,” according to the stipulation.
In its Sept. 25 amended petition, filed with an application for a TRO and temporary injunction, B&R alleges Andron signed an employment agreement in 2011 that said for the duration of his employment and for two years after he would not work for any company that sells products and services like B&R’s, among other things.
In June, Akin Gump approached Andron “about its desire to build an in-house trial presentation and graphics department and ultimately offered Andron a job in its Dallas office,” B&R alleges in the petition. Andron left B&R, which specializes in electronically generated trial graphics, in September.
B&R alleges in its petition that Akin Gump was its first customer when B&R was established in 1998 and remains a customer. Yet, “Akin Gump’s in-house team will not only lessen or obviate the relationship Akin Gump’s attorneys have with B&R, but will also put Akin Gump in the position of direct marketing such services to litigants, including existing corporate and law firm clients of B&R,” the company alleges, among other things.
According to the amended petition in Barnes & Roberts LLC v. Andron, B&R’s causes of action against Andron include breach of contract and misappropriation of trade secrets; the company seeks unspecified damages. In its application for TRO and temporary injunction, B&R seeks to bar Andron from working for or consulting with Akin Gump, as well as with Fish & Richardson and Jones Day, on services or products similar to what B&R offers. Staci Pirnar, a partner in Dallas’ Bellinger, DeWolf & Suberg who represents B&R, says Fish and Jones Day specifically are mentioned because they are two B&R clients that also have in-house litigation services departments that help with trial presentations.
Jeremy Wilson, a partner in Dallas’ Wilson Trosclair & Lovins who represents Andron, and Akin Gump Dallas office managing partner J. Kenneth Menges each did not return a telephone call seeking comment.
Pirnar says the parties are in talks, and they have postponed the TRO hearing. She says B&R doesn’t want Andron to share knowledge and tools he gained during his employment with potential B&R competitors, including law firms.
Bill Cobb of Houston’s Cobb Consulting, who advises lawyers on law firm management issues, says in general more Texas firms are starting to develop in-house litigation services departments instead of relying on outside vendors. “As graphics are getting easier, more and more firms are doing it,” says Cobb. Plus firms realize they can charge clients for such in-house services, which makes them a “profit center,” he says.
Partner James P. Karen, litigation practice coordinator in Jones Day’s Dallas office, stresses that, for large cases, Jones Day turns to outside vendors such as Barnes & Roberts. “Their sweet spot is trial graphics,” he says. But he says his firm relies on in-house trial litigation services for some smaller trials.
As computer systems and software get more sophisticated and user-friendly and lawyers become more technologically savvy, Jones Day litigators can put together computer graphics for smaller cases on their own, he says. Karen believes “a lot of firms have some capabilities” for handling such matters on their own, but in large suits few firms are ready to go solo without the help of an outside vendor.
Tom Melsheimer, managing principal of Fish & Richardson’s Dallas office, says his firm has an in-house litigation services department based in California, but he usually uses B&R for such needs. He says other Fish & Richardson lawyers rely on the in-house litigation services department, particularly for intellectual property cases with complex animation needed to portray scientific subjects.
Melsheimer says Fish & Richardson charges clients for in-house litigation services but he does not believe the department serves as a profit center. “People thought for a while it might be a smart idea to move things in-house, but there are peaks and valleys in our trial work,” he says. An outside vendor is there when you need them and not when you don’t, he adds.