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Wake Up Call: Biden Hire of Ex-Facebook Lawyer Raises Hackles

Jan. 4, 2021, 1:54 PM

In today’s column, the Covid-19 pandemic is causing Big Law firms and their clients to compromise on pricing; the pandemic is also pushing Big Law firms in London to drop plans for moves into bigger offices; in London today a judge rejected a U.S. extradition request for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange; K&L Gates announced the death of former Pennsylvania governor and attorney general Richard Thornburg, a longtime lawyer at the firm.

  • Leading off, the Biden-Harris transition team stirred some controversy last week by announcing the hire of former Jenner & Block litigation partner Jessica Hertz to become staff secretary in the coming Biden White House. Some critics said the hire of Hertz, who was recently an in-house regulatory affairs counsel at Facebook Inc., looks bad as Big Tech increasingly faces antitrust and other regulatory scrutiny. But other observers noted that Hertz previously held several roles in the Obama-Biden administration, including principal deputy counsel to then Vice-President Biden, and various Justice Department posts. (Vox.com)
  • Hertz was among several legal hires the Biden-Harris transition team announced last week, including former lawyers at Covington & Burling, and Paul, Weiss. (National Law Journal)
  • New leaders arriving at several major law firms at the beginning of 2021 will face challenges caused by a pandemic that’s still getting worse. (BLAW)
  • In London, as in New York, the pandemic is pushing Big Law firms to abandon their pre-Covid plans for expensive moves to bigger premises. As firms get increasingly comfortable with remote-working arrangements that grew out of the crisis, they are seeking to slash their space by as much as half, this report says. (Financial Times)
  • Meanwhile, the pandemic and its economic impact have pushed both law firms and their clients to compromise on pricing. (American Lawyer)
  • Thanks to Covid-19, over 1,000 recent law school graduates got licensed as lawyers last year without taking the bar exam, across four states and the District of Columbia. (BLAW)
  • The California State Bar said it has cleared 86% of the 3,190 takers of its October online exam that it had earlier flagged as possible cheaters. (BLAW)
  • Although lateral hiring was down 30% across the 100 biggest law firms in 2020 as the pandemic made firms risk averse, some firms still opened their wallets to get top recruits. Here’s an inventory of the year’s 15 biggest lateral moves. (BLAW)

Lawyers, Law Firms

  • Lawyers for the U.S. said they intend to appeal after a British judge today denied a U.S. extradition request for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. (Bloomberg News via BLAW)
  • K&L Gates said former U.S. attorney general and former Pennsylvania governor Richard Thornburgh, a longtime lawyer at the firm, died Dec. 31, 2020, at age 88. He retired from the firm in early 2019. (Bloomberg News)
  • With the Biden administration taking over, antitrust and tax lawyers will likely be in high demand. (American Lawyer)
  • A federal judge last week threw out a bias suit against Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan on procedural grounds, concluding that a former associate who sued the firm had missed deadlines and other requirements. (National Law Journal)
  • Winston & Strawn is suing a Florida-based holding company of a pharmacy chain for over $600,000 in allegedly unpaid legal fees and charges for late payments. (American Lawyer)

Laterals, Moves, In-House

  • Mayer Brown brought on fund finance lawyer Thomas Rao as a partner in its banking & finance practice in New York. He arrives after over two decades at Paul Hastings. (MayerBrown.com)
  • Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough said it got back real estate finance attorney Virginia Bailey “Ginger” Rolfes as a partner in Charlotte, North Carolina. Rolfes was most recently special counsel at Katten Muchin Rosenman, where she’d been nearly 10 years. She spent 10 months as an associate at Nelson Mullins earlier in her career. (NelsonMullins.com)
  • Stock-trading startup Robinhood Markets Inc. added four lawyers to its in-house team, including former WilmerHale securities litigation and enforcement counsel Erica Crosland. (BLAW)
  • Beacon Roofing Supply Inc., the biggest publicly traded distributor of roofing materials in the U.S. and Canada, said it is searching for a new general counsel. It said its longtime top lawyer Ross Cooper, the company’s first-ever GC, is switching to an advisor role to have more time for teaching. (Corporate Counsel)
  • Here’s a look at four companies that made big moves in their in-house legal departments in 2020. (Corporate Counsel)

Technology

  • Electronic discovery services provider Epiq last week launched a legal staffing business, Epiq Counsel, joining an already crowded field of competitors providing contract lawyers to legal departments and law firms. (BLAW)
  • Brightflag, Everlaw, and LawGeex were among beneficiaries of some of 2020’s biggest legal tech investments. (Legaltech News)

To contact the correspondent on this story: Rick Mitchell in Paris at rMitchell@correspondent.bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com; Darren Bowman at dbowman@bloomberglaw.com

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