Risk Update

Risk Report — Risk of Change, Cyber Practice Risks & Reputation Risk, More Judicial Conflicts Allegations and News

A Failure to Decentralize: A Messy 4 Months at Lewis Brisbois Has Roots in Belated Succession Planning” —

  • “Although talks of reconfiguring Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith’s governance structure and management personnel had been underway for years, it took the departure of more than 150 lawyers so far this year to serve as an impetus for action.”
  • “For years, partners and executives have complained about the firm’s opaque leadership, unilateral decision-making and lack of succession planning, sources with knowledge of the firm, some of whom agreed to speak to The American Lawyer on the condition of anonymity, said.”
  • “Abrupt shifts that have taken place within the last month at the Am Law 100 firm, including Lewis’ resignation and the dissolution of the executive committee, speak to the challenges of tactfully transitioning leadership from the founding generation to a new one, according to lawyers and consultants interviewed for this story.”
  • “Grievances of opaque management spilled over into the public square last week when a 2019 letter by former chief operating officer Robert Kamins to California state authorities surfaced, alleging financial impropriety and asset-hoarding by longtime chairman Bob Lewis and other ‘insiders’ at the firm. (Firm leaders have denied the allegations.)”
  • “The letter claims Kamins discovered ‘questionable practices which he reasonably believed violated the law,’ and alleges that following his termination, the firm ‘continued to make operational changes that—rather than stopping the unlawful conduct—have further solidified the control of the Firm in the hands of those who are behind the unlawful conduct.'”
  • “Within the last 10 years, two cybersecurity groups acquired by the firm have left, most recently, the firm’s 44-person cyber group who left for Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete. In 2014, a team of cyber lawyers from now-defunct Nelson Levine opened the firm’s Pennsylvania office before starting cybersecurity boutique Mullen Coughlin two years later.”
  • “In a 2021 interview with The Legal Intelligencer, leaders of Mullen Coughlin said it was founded by partners who sought to evade the constraints of larger firms—namely, territorial competition for clients and origination credit, pressure to maintain a sizeable book of business and inefficiency in checking for conflicts of interest.”
  • “‘We need to be fast on conflict checks, and when you’re at a firm with 1,000-plus lawyers, you can’t,’ John Mullen said, adding that in Big Law, there are ‘too many lawyers with too many clients who keep them as clients forever.'”
  • “Competition for cybersecurity legal professionals comes from all sides, and law firms can be viewed as a training ground from which higher-paying companies can recruit.”
  • “Departures and leadership changes have come as a shock to some number of Lewis Brisbois employees, who received an email May 5 from firm leaders apologizing for failing to give notice about the departures and changes before they were publicized by media outlets like The American Lawyer.”
  • “Emails downplaying the seismic exits have been circulated this month seeking to instill morale among employees in the face of seismic exits and media attention, sources inside the firm said.”

And more: “Ex-Lewis Brisbois partners resign from new firm after racist, sexist emails found” — “The name partners of U.S. law firm Barber Ranen have resigned after their former law firm Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith found dozens of emails that showed the lawyers using racist, sexist, homophobic and antisemitic language while they were there, according to Barber Ranen’s chief executive officer.”

Federal judge who ruled against DeSantis will recuse himself from Disney case” —

  • “A federal judge who has a history of ruling against Ron DeSantis is stepping aside from presiding over a high-profile case where Disney sued the Florida governor.”
  • “The state previously pushed to disqualify U.S. Chief District Judge Mark Walker based on comments he made in court about the ongoing dispute between the entertainment giant and Republican governor. DeSantis, who mounted a presidential bid, has made his fight with Disney a key part of his political brand.”
  • “Walker on Thursday called the motion filed by the state ‘meritless.’ But he said he’ll remove himself from the case because he discovered last week that an unidentified ‘third-degree’ relative of his owns 30 shares of Disney stock.”
  • “‘Even though I believe it is highly unlikely that these proceedings will have a substantial effect on The Walt Disney Company, I choose to err on the side of caution — which, here, is also the side of judicial integrity — and disqualify myself,’ Walker wrote in a 14-page order. ‘Maintaining public trust in the judiciary is paramount, perhaps now more than ever in the history of our Republic.'”
  • “Walker, who was appointed to the bench by former President Barack Obama, has presided over several contentious legal fights in the past several years that have involved DeSantis, former Gov. Rick Scott and the GOP-controlled Florida Legislature.”
  • “The result of Walker’s decision is that the Disney lawsuit has now been reassigned to U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor, an appointee of former President Donald Trump who once worked as Florida’s solicitor general under then-state Attorney General Pam Bondi.”

Judge presiding over Big Oil climate change lawsuit reveals connection to plaintiff’s eco lawyers” —

  • “The Hawaii state judge presiding over a high-stakes climate change case between the City of Honolulu and several multinational oil corporations is facing calls for recusal over his indirect relationship to plaintiffs.”
  • “Mark Recktenwald, the chief justice of the Hawaii State Supreme Court, quietly disclosed this month that he presented for an April course in collaboration with the Environmental Law Institute (ELI) Climate Judiciary Project. According to the ELI, the project is designed to educate judges across the country on how to handle climate change litigation that comes before them.”
  • “The ELI, though, boasts numerous connections to Sher Edling, the eco law firm representing Honolulu and a number of other jurisdictions, including Minnesota, New Jersey, New York City, and San Francisco, in similar climate nuisance cases against oil corporations in which plaintiffs argue the fossil fuel industry has spearheaded a decades-long campaign of deception about global warming risks.”
  • “In his disclosure earlier this month, Recktenwald publicly shared the slide deck for his ELI presentation titled ‘Rising Seas and Litigation: What Judges Need to Know About Warming-Driven Sea Level Rise.”‘ The chief justice spoke about a number of ongoing climate nuisance suits and discussed arguments plaintiffs have made in court, the slide deck showed.”
  • “Recktenwald’s disclosure notably failed to mention that he also presented at a December ELI webinar titled ‘Hurricanes in a Changing Climate and Related Litigation.'”