Monday, January 14

FirmSuit of the Day: Holland & Knight Blocks Jumps like Dikembe Mutombo

In case you missed it, this week is "well, you taught them how to sue" week at CE. Every day we're going to feature a little nugget of law firm internal strife that's ended up in court, and we're kicking things off with a couple of big names: Holland and Knight.

The story [via Blog of Legal Times]: Patricia Dillman, a former Holland & Knight litigation paralegal, is suing her old firm for mucking up (read: tortiously interfering with) her imminent transfer to another global powerhouse, Hughes Hubbard. Apparently, the gigantic firm responded to Dillman's 2-week notice by conflict-checking the paralegal's new position against her work at H-K. When a red flag came up based on some environmental work, Holland contacted Hughes, which promptly pulled the plug on the job.

The Good Parts: Most people's first question is what the big deal is about conflict-checking a departing employee. Well, nothing. When they're lawyers. But Dillman was a paralegal - she wasn't bound by the professional ethics rules that usually trip up travelling lawyers - and anyway, wall-offs are run-of-the-mill in firms the size of these two. Otherwise, no one could ever lateral. So, why did HK conflict-check her to begin with?

For the juice, keep reading.
First off, this was no ordinary paralegal. Dillman was the head of the litigation department's support group, and her new gig was set to bag her $200k a year in Hughes' NY office. Not the kind of person you want to let walk into another multinational firm and start shaking hands. Second, that "environmental work" she was allegedly a part of was the sinking of the oil tanker Prestige, the worst environmental disaster in the history of Spain. And her client was...well...Spain. From the BLT Article:

Spain said the [American Bureau of Shipping], which checks the structural fitness of ships, was negligent in classifying the 26-year-old vessel as fit to haul fuel. Six months after the bureau gave clearance, the Prestige became caught in a storm and Spain refused to give the ship port. The Prestige eventually split in half and sank.

So, Holland represents Spain. Hmm. [Insert joke of choice]. Anyways, guess who reps the bureau? Yep:

According to the complaint, Holland partner Brian Starer told Hughes Hubbard attorneys [representing the ABS] during a deposition in the Reino de Espana case that Holland might try to disqualify the firm from the lawsuit if Dillman began working there.

This case is a seesaw. If Dillman's telling the truth, she was a tragic victim of an underhanded litigation strategy. If not, then does that mean Holland was justified in notifying its opponent of a non-attorney's potential conflict? Dillman's alleging that she did little more than copies and letter writing in the Spain suit, which puts Holland's comments to Hughes in a bad light.

If she's telling the truth, she's a true tragic victim, complete with her own Shakespearean ending: a judge in New York dismissed the entire action by the Spanish government a few days ago, holding Spain has to pursue the case in its own courts.

More tomorrow.