Former Associate Demands More High-quality Work, with Disastrous Results

 

Associates at large law firms typically aren't assigned the most ground-breaking or intellectually stimulating work during their first years, but one former Kasowitz associate believes that his unjustly mundane workload merits a 75-million dollar suit against his former employer.

Gregory S. Berry, who was fired by Kasowitz Benson Torres & Friedman after demanding more high-quality work better suited for his "superior legal mind" is suing the New York firm for $25 million in compensatory damages and at least $50 million more in punitive damages. 

Prior to attending UPenn Law, Berry worked as a software engineer in Silicon Valley for 10 years, a valuable experience that put him head and shoulders above the other Kasowitz associates - or so Berry thought.  After working at the firm for a few months, Berry fired off a mass email to various firm partners, writing:

"I am in kind of an uncomfortable position at the firm because although I am a 'first year,' I have 15 years business and real world experience . . . I have as much experience and ability as an associate many years my senior, as much skill writing, and a superior legal mind to most I have met. . .. If you will allow me to manage some cases for you I can guarantee without reservation that you will get a better result than you get now with many of the official resources you have available to you."

Berry was promptly called into a partner's office, reprimanded, and subsequently released from his associateship.

While Mr. Berry struggles to recover a cent of his multi-million dollar claim from a behemoth, well-prepared defendant, there're two key lessons we can learn from the plaintiff's plight:

First and foremost, large law firms already have a good idea of what they want their associates to do.  Most successful biglaw firms have a ton of work to hand out to its associates and rely on those associates to bill lots of hours to complete the assigned work.  Thus, a creative and intellectual mind would probably not be the best match for the frequently menial work relegated to first-years.  As illustrated by Mr. Berry's termination, most associates would be well-advised to keep their heads down and do what they're told - at least for the first few years.

Second, real world experience may not be as valuable to the firm's leadership as one might think.  Clearly, Mr. Berry thought that his work as a software engineer in Silicon Valley would make him a more attractive candidate for some of the partner's top clients.  Obviously, this wasn't the case.  Mr. Berry underestimated the rigidity of the biglaw hierarchy and made a fatal mistake when he tried to jump a few rungs over his head.  Occasionally, career experience in a field other than law might prove useful in certain niche practices; but for the most part, the biglaw track doesn't represent the ideal way of further pursuing this developed interest.

And finally - this should go without saying, but just in case - it's never a good idea to spam your firm's partners with egotistical demands for more work.  As a first-year associate, you'll be thrust into a corporate environment that will probably be completely new and unfamiliar territory.  If you're concerned about job security, take the time to observe and acclimate.  Don't irritate the mechanisms of the long-institutionalized beast that is the big law firm. 

 

Building a Better Legal Profession (BBLP) is an organization based at Stanford Law School.   BBLP is a national grassroots movement that seeks market-based workplace reforms in large private law firms. For more information, visit BBLP's Web site at www.betterlegalprofession.org.

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