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Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Dorsey subject of New York judge's ire

Southern District of New York Judge Harold Baer has taken the opportunity in a trade secrets case—now settled—to deliver a 129-page admonition to the lawyers in the case and the profession in general concerning what he sees as declining standards of professionalism and civility.

The plaintiff was represented by Dorsey & Whitney, and attorney Kristan Peters, who was with the firm from January to June this year. The complicated dispute involves the use of information allegedly protected by court orders. The judge’s full opinion in Wolter Kluwers Financial Services Inc. v. Scivantage, is available here.

Dorsey denies the allegations of unprofessionalism against it but more interesting to me is the judge’s exhortation on lawyers and law firms in general. If it’s accurate—and I don’t know that it is—I’d like to think it’s an East Coast phenomenon.

Baer writes,

“While I am dismayed at the way in which many law firms today approach the
practice of law, I realize that for the most part is it none of my business and
indeed not the business of the judiciary in general. The fact that partners are
at times made and retained for their rainmaking skills and not for their legal
skill, that the number of billable hours is not only the alpha and omega of
bonuses but that these hours—or at least the ones that count—often exclude pro
bono hours, or that who gets credit for originating a piece of business can
throw a firm into turmoil and prompt major internecine struggles, or that the
bottom line has eclipsed most everything else for which the practice of law
stands or stood to the extent that the practice of law is now frequently
described as a business rather than a profession. . . . Rather, it is the
fallout from such conduct, some of which we witnessed here, that ineluctably
drives some lawyers and some law firms to the kind of conduct that played out
before me at this hearing and that then becomes the business of the

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