Risk Update

Risk Updates — Client Selection and Firm Consternation, Lawyer-Judge Relationship Details Surfaced,

Jackson Walker Says Attorney Lied About Romance With Judge” —

  • “A onetime partner at the Texas law firm Jackson Walker failed to disclose the full truth about an alleged romantic relationship she had with bankruptcy Judge David R. Jones, the firm said.”
  • “The attorney, Elizabeth Freeman, initially denied in 2021 that she was in a ‘current’ relationship with the prominent Texas bankruptcy judge, but admitted that they’d had a past relationship, Jackson Walker said in a court filing Monday. The firm only learned in 2022 that those statements were ‘possibly false or at least no longer true,’ it said.”
  • “The new information comes as the Justice Department’s bankruptcy watchdog, the US Trustee’s office, is challenging at least $13 million in fees the firm collected following revelations that it didn’t disclose allegations of a romantic relationship between Jones and Freeman.”
  • “Jones, who sat on the Houston-based bankruptcy court for 12 years, announced last month he would resign after admitting to a long-term relationship with Freeman. Freeman previously worked at Jackson Walker and, before that, as a clerk to Jones himself. She left the firm in December 2022.”
  • “The firm reiterated its stance that it first became aware of allegations of a relationship between Jones and Freeman in March 2021. After learning of the allegations, the firm said, it tapped outside counsel at Holland & Knight to help it probe the situation.”
  • “Jackson Walker in an August 2021 draft letter to Holland & Knight said Freeman had ‘confirmed that there is no current romantic relationship between herself and Judge Jones and that none is expected going forward.’”
  • “Jackson Walker noted that as part of its handling of the allegations, it disclosed the situation in 2021 to Kirkland & Ellis, the powerhouse restructuring firm that was its co-counsel in a bankruptcy case at the time.”
  • “Jackson Walker said Freeman denied that the relationship was ongoing when the firm confronted her about it in 2022, but she later admitted to a current romantic relationship. Jackson Walker then launched discussions with her and her attorney ‘that ultimately resulted in her separation from the Firm,’ the filing said.”

Was Nixon Peabody’s Representation of Trump ‘Worth a Conversation’ With Other Partners?” —

  • “Nixon Peabody’s representation of Donald Trump in federal litigation—and whether any firm partners were notified of the representation in advance—is getting more notice, as legal industry observers point to the untraditional and perhaps ‘imprudent’ approach the law firm took in reportedly bringing on the former president as a client.”
  • “Observers say a pre-hiring meeting with other lawyers should have occurred because of the potential impact on other clients and on the firm’s business operations.”
  • “‘Not as a matter of principle or otherwise, but as a matter of management hygiene, it probably should have been aired in advance and not announced as a ‘fait accompli,’’ noted Bruce MacEwen, a New York-based law firm consultant.”
  • “Am Law 200 firms rarely represent Trump, a lightning rod for controversy and often one that corporate clients disagree with. Trump continues to rely on small firms and solo practitioners for the myriad of indictments and other litigation entangling him. One of the most recent Am Law 200 lawyers to represent Trump, Todd Blanche, left Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft to open his own shop in April.”
  • “According to reports by Above the Law, Nixon Peabody CEO and managing partner Stephen Zubiago reportedly told surprised members of the Boston-based firm on Nov. 6 that he authorized the firm taking on Trump as a client without disclosing it to partners beforehand.”
  • “In a statement to Law.com, Allison McClain, chief communications officer for Nixon Peabody, said the firm performed a conflict check on Trump just as it does ‘for any new representation at the firm.’ She did not respond to a question about whether other lawyers were informed about Trump being a client after the check was completed.”
  • “In interviews, law firm consultants and marketing advisers said if Nixon Peabody’s leadership took on the case without consulting the partnership at large, it was within the firm’s right and law firms may take on controversial clients. But several said they wouldn’t advise a firm leader to leave the partnership in the dark on an issue like this.”
  • “Even if a firm decides to take a case based solely on its subject matter, the public will link the firm with the client if it’s one with Trump’s celebrity status, MacEwen said. ‘The question is, ‘Who is the client?’’ MacEwen said. ‘If you’re a firm that represents Donald Trump, well, guess what? That’s who you are. I don’t care if it’s a parking ticket.’”
  • “Alexa Ross, an Atlanta-based attorney and law firm consultant, noted that prior to engaging with a client, a lawyer or law firm performs ‘reasonable procedures, appropriate for the size and type of firm and practice’ to determine any ‘actual or potential conflicts of interest,’ according to Rule 1.7 of the American Bar Association’s (ABA) Rules of Professional Conduct.”
  • “‘This is not a simple Republican versus Democratic situation. All partners—Republicans, Democrats, independents and others—should have been afforded the opportunity to think about the potential ramifications of the representation and determine whether to undertake it,’ she said. ‘The partnership, not the originating partner alone, had the right to decide whether to accept the representation.’”
  • “Denver-based law firm marketing consultant Meranda Vieyra said she was unsure if it was ‘practical’ that a firm the size of Nixon Peabody could call a meeting of its partners every time it was considering a new client. Nixon Peabody has about 570 lawyers in 15 offices in four countries.”
  • “But she added that a firm probably should inform all its lawyers and staff it is considering a client like Trump—who is facing four indictments while being the front-runner for the Republican nomination for president in 2024.”