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Wake Up Call: Tesla Hires Quinn in Suit Over Closed California Plant

May 11, 2020, 12:50 PM

In today’s column, Covid-19 has killed tens of thousands of legal sector jobs much faster than the 2008-2009 Great Recession did; as the crisis causes massive general U.S. unemployment and other misery, several Big Law firms are including pro bono and community service work in their summer associate programs; California’s bar exam pass rate dropped to a record low in February; Skadden Arps paid $11 million to settle a dispute with an ex-Ukraine leader.

  • Leading off, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan partner Alex Spiro is leading Tesla Inc.'s lawsuit against a California county that won’t let the electric car maker re-open its production plant, which has been shut down since March because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Spiro helped Telsa CEO Elon Musk last year beat a defamation case over an insulting tweet. (Bloomberg News)

  • According to new federal data, U.S. legal services sector job losses exploded in the 30-day period to mid-April, as law firms and other organizations cut positions in response to the global economic collapse brought on by the Covid pandemic. The sector lost 64,000 jobs in the period, up 38 times from the 1,700 lost the month before. During the Great Recession, it took two years for the sector to reach 59,000 job losses. (BLAW)

  • Holland & Knight said Friday that it’s furloughing some workers, cutting partner draws, and reducing salaries for associates and staff. Pepper Hamilton said it’s slashing associates’ pay 20% and reducing partners’ distributions by an unspecified amount, even as it goes on with plans to merge with ith Troutman Sanders. They are just the latest in a list of dozens of Big Law firms making austerity cuts to protect their finances during the Covid-crisis. (BLAW)

  • On the upside, Big Law firms’ capital markets practices are getting a boost from a surge of debt issued by blue chip U.S. companies n March and April. (BLAW)

  • Simpson Thacher & Bartlett told summer associates last week that their compensation will be built around community service, the latest of several Big Law firms that are including pro bono and community service elements into their summer programs in the Covid-19 crisis. (American Lawyer)

  • As President Trump pushes for a reopening of the U.S. economy from its Covid-19 shutdown, over half of the 125 companies responding to a recent Dykema survey said they plan to phase in reopening of their businesses over the next month, while 21% said they’ll open faster and 21% said they won’t reopen until they’ve satisfied government guidelines for opening. (Dykema)

  • Foley & Lardner launched a tool for companies to track states’ Covid-19 emergency orders, to help with their reopening plans. (

  • Milbank is posting podcasts in which the head of its Covid-19 task force, partner Allan Marks, talks to other partners at the firm about the pandemic’s legal, business, and policy implications. Some recent subjects include antitrust, capital market, and pro bono. (

Lawyers, Law Firms

  • Skadden Arps paid $11 million to avoid a lawsuit by a former Ukrainian prime minister who blamed the firm for enabling her political persecution, the Times reports. (NYT)

  • Longtime top lawyer at the United Mine Workers of America labor union Charles “Chuck” Donnelly died last week. No cause of death was reported. (Corporate Counsel)

  • Lawyers for the family of a murdered black jogger want to know why Georgia authorities took 74 days to take action after a video showed the man killed in a confrontation with two white men in a park. (Daily Report)

  • A federal judge still has to okay a decision by U.S. prosecutors to drop perjury charges against former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. (Bloomberg News)

  • Controversial environmental lawyer Steven Donziger has to face criminal contempt charges stemming from his civil court fight with Chevron Corp., a court ruled. (BLAW)

  • Davis Polk advisedbankrupt Dean Foods Co. on its agreement to sell substantially all of its assets and business operations to six acquirers, including Dairy Farmers of America. The sale got antitrust approval earlier this month. (Bloomberg News via BLAW)

Laterals, Moves

  • Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe hired banking in-house leader Duane Hughes as a new leader for its diversity and inclusion efforts. (BLAW)

  • Fox Rothschild added entertainment law attorney Alexander J. Threadgold in New York as a partner. He was most recently a partner at Savur Threadgold, a boutique entertainment and media firm in New York City, and previously founded and managed a record label. (FoxRothschild)

  • Alternative dispute resolution services provider JAMS added retired Illinois federal magistrate judge Sidney I. Schenkier to its Chicago panel. (


  • The United Services Automobile Association recruited a top lawyer, getting Robert Johnson Jr., who was most recently general counsel for corporate, commercial, and legal shares services at bank holding company Truist Financial Corp. (BLAW)

  • ETF Managers Group LLC, a provider of exchange-traded funds, hired a new general counsel. (BLAW)

  • The Washington-based nonprofit advocacy Center for Democracy & Technology is getting a new president and CEO today, seven months after its previous leader, Nuala O’Connor, left to become senior vice president & chief counsel, digital citizenship at Walmart. Hired in March, former IP & antitrust chief counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee, Alexandra Reeve Givens starts the job today. The center said it also recently added attorney Lydia X.Z. Brown as policy counsel in its policy and data project; while its student privacy project added former Federal Communications Commission attorney adviser Cody Venzke as a policy counsel, and Hugh Grant-Chapman joined as research and communications associate. (


  • A California judge last week denied the state bar’s motion for an injunction against legal referral group, the latest in a longstanding legal saga that could have broader implications for how such services that pair lawyers and clients are regulated. (BLAW)

  • The billable hour is likely to survive Covid-19 intact even as the crisis spurs in-house legal departments to ask their outside law firms to be more efficient and predictable on costs , a report says. (Legaltech News)

Legal Education

  • The pass rate on California’s February bar exam dropped to an all-time low 26.8%. after Virginia, New York, and Pennsylvania earlier reported declines on their February exam scores. (The Recorder)

To contact the correspondent on this story: Rick Mitchell in Paris at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rebekah Mintzer at; Darren Bowman at