Risk Update

Lawyer DQ & Malpractice — Disqualification Denied in Patent Matter, Malpractice Matters, Trial Timing Means Special Master DQ Withdrawn

Perkins Can Stay At Defense Table For Intel In Memory IP Suit” —

  • “Perkins Coie LLP can continue to defend Intel Corp. in a patent case focused on superconductor memory technology because the firm’s contacts with the plaintiff — including a prior engagement — don’t represent a substantial risk of conflict, an Oregon federal judge has ruled.”
  • “In a Friday order denying a disqualification bid by BeSang Inc., the court said there was no dispute that BeSang’s chief executive, Sang-Yun Lee, hired Perkins Coie 14 years ago for a potential manufacturer contract. But that work was limited, the court said. Back in 2009, Lee had only a single, hourlong meeting with Perkins Coie lawyers about the possible deal. They later produced a largely ‘boilerplate’ draft for an agreement that never got off the ground.”
  • “Submissions from BeSang and Intel also showed that Lee himself was surprised the firm had produced a draft at that early stage, and that Perkins Coie never got descriptions of BeSang technology or processes, the court concluded.”
  • “‘Had the representation proceeded, there might indeed have been a substantial risk that the information [BeSang] outlines … would be shared and would materially advance defendant’s position in this litigation,’ the judge said. ‘But where the record shows only a high-level preliminary conversation, the risk that Perkins Coie obtained such information is not substantial, and the extreme step of disqualification of counsel is not warranted.'”
  • “In the Friday decision, U.S. District Judge Marco Hernandez said BeSang had argued that the 2009 representation was related to the current case, and that Perkins likely had information that could aid Intel with ‘claim scope, claim construction, infringement, invalidity, and damages.'”
  • “In addition to the 2009 representation, Lee argued that disqualification was also warranted because he’d been in contact in 2020 with Perkins Coie lawyers about a potential IP licensing deal and venture capital fundraising. Separately, he pointed to communications and a meeting in 2021 with another Perkins Coie attorney, Chun Ng, about a potential patent infringement case against a different company.”
  • “After a preliminary conflict check and meeting with Lee, Ng said he ‘declined representation early in the conversation’ because many of the patents at issue were about to expire and the potential defendant ‘had no sales in the United States,’ according to the order.”
  • “The court concluded that, like the 2009 matter, neither of the more recent contacts resulted in Perkins Coie obtaining information that could be harmful to BeSang in the Intel case.”

Plaintiffs in Roundup lawsuit drop effort to disqualify prominent St. Louis attorney” —

  • “Plaintiffs’ attorneys have withdrawn a motion seeking to disqualify attorney Bob Blitz as a special master in a Roundup lawsuit because of his close legal and business relationship with attorney James Bennett.”
  • “Plaintiffs’ attorneys filed the motion to disqualify after learning Aug. 9 that Bennett, a partner with Dowd Bennett, would be the lead trial counsel in the case. Their motion cited Bennett and Blitz serving currently as co-counsel in a federal lawsuit against Ameren Missouri; Bennett representing Blitz and his law firm, Blitz Bardgett & Deutsch LC, in a 2015 lawsuit; and the $276.5 million in fees their firms shared when the lawsuit against the National Football League and the Los Angeles Rams was settled.”
  • “Toward the ending of Tuesday’s hearing, May said if he granted the motion to disqualify Blitz, the McCostlin Roundup trial would have to be delayed until Sept. 17, 2025. May stressed to plaintiff attorney Joe Jacobson that he was not telegraphing what his decision would be on the motion to disqualify.”
  • “The prospect of a two-year delay in the McCostlin trial is the reason why the motion to disqualify was withdrawn, said Jacobson, a shareholder in Jacobson Press PC. The plaintiffs’ attorneys brought in Jacobson to file the motion to disqualify.”
  • “‘Even though we thought it was a good motion – and the judge did not dismiss it out of hand – we felt that it was in the client’s best interests to move forward with the case,’ Jacobson said.”

Brian S. Faughnan writes: “At the intersection of ethics and entrepreneurial acts” —

  • “A case written up by Mike Frisch earlier this month caught my eye because it involves a discussion of two still-evolving areas of claims that can get made against law firms.”
  • “Most of the case, and most of what Frisch focuses on, is the malpractice claim that was made regarding an alleged lost opportunity to settle a case. Although the Vermont Supreme Court did join a growing list of states to explicitly recognize that lost opportunity to settle can be a variety of actionable legal malpractice, the plaintiff’s loss at the summary judgment stage was affirmed.”
  • “The second half of the Vermont case involved overturning a grant of summary judgment in favor of the law firm as to a claim under the Vermont Consumer Protection Act.”
  • “The potential application of state consumer protection acts against lawyers and law firms is something I first wrote about back in 2006.”
  • “Over the ensuing 17 years, general traction has been obtained for the notion that you cannot sue a lawyer or law firm under such statutes for claims relating to the core things that involve the practice of law such as rendering legal advice but that you can do so for things involving ‘entrepreneurial aspects of the practice of law.'”
  • “In the case before the Vermont Supreme Court, the consumer protection act claim turned on the fact that the defendant law firm, in landing the client, had been alleged to have made representations that certain tasks would be delegated to associates and others when appropriate. Now that sounds innocuous out of context, but the allegations were that the entire case was handled primarily by an associate at the firm. While the Court recognized that how a case is staffed is not an entrepreneurial aspect of the practice of law, a promise or representation made about how a case would be staffed to land a case was.”
  • “The commercial aspects of the practice of law that many courts will find can be the stuff of a consumer protection act claim are advertising, billing and collection activity, and not only statements made to obtain clients but even methods of keeping or discarding clients.”
  • “Those issues are ones that lawyers mostly recognize as bringing ethics and disciplinary risks under rules such as RPC 7.1 and RPC 1.5 or even RPC 1.16 but it is worth keeping in mind that, even though the rules in most jurisdictions set out language in their Preamble or Scope sections to assert that the ethics rules are not designed for the purpose of providing a basis for civil liability, conduct that would violate those rules can also easily become the stuff of civil liability all the same through application of a state’s statutory framework seeking consumer protection or cracking down on deceptive trade practices.”
  • “This potential for liability can provide yet another justification for firms to give some scrutiny not only to making sure that their billing practices are reasonable and justifiable but also to reviewing the language their lawyers use in engagement agreements and even in making new client pitches.”