A New York state judge has thrown out a lawsuit brought against Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld by a legal recruiter who claimed the law firm stiffed him on a partner placement commission.
In a suit filed in October 2006, New York headhunter Eric Sivin of Sivin-Tobin Associates claimed he was entitled to a fee because he first introduced Akin Gump to Korea specialist Chang-Joo Kim, who joined the firm’s New York office as a lateral partner from Dorsey & Whitney in April 2006.
The dispute highlighted the difficulties that can arise in a market for lateral partners that can be as competitive for recruiters as for the lawyers they represent.
In a decision granting summary judgment to Akin Gump, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Jane Solomon ruled that, even if Sivin was first to submit Kim’s resume to the firm, that fact alone did not make him the “procuring cause” of the partner’s placement.
Akin Gump had credited another recruiter, Phil Morimoto of Boston Executive Search Associates, with the placement, paying him a commission of $227,500 for both Kim and one of his associates.
Solomon agreed and contrasted the two recruiters’ approaches in her decision.
Sivin had e-mailed Kim’s resume to Akin Gump’s then-New York office head, Stephen M. Vine, on Dec. 19, 2005. The recruiter also attached to his e-mail a personalized letter and a term sheet stating Sivin Tobin’s fee for the placement would be 25 percent of the candidate’s total compensation in his first 12 months at the firm.
The judge noted that Vine stated in an affidavit he did not recall receiving Sivin’s e-mail and that he would not have been interested anyway because the firm did not have a Korea practice in New York at the time.
Morimoto, on the other hand, sent the resume on Dec. 28, 2005, to Sukhan Kim, the Washington, D.C.-based head of Akin Gump’s Korea practice, who met with Chang-Joo Kim barely a week later.
Sukhan Kim told Morimoto on Jan. 13, 2006, that he wanted Chang-Joo Kim to join Akin Gump’s New York office, pending approval by firm chairman R. Bruce McLean, also resident in Washington.
Following that approval, Sukhan Kim and Morimoto held further meetings and continued to discuss Chang-Joo Kim’s salary as well as Morimoto’s fee. The judge said Sivin’s relative inactivity meant he had no reasonable expectation of payment.
“[P]laintiff, admittedly, sent Chang-Joo’s resume unsolicited and did nothing else to secure Chang-Joo’s placement at Akin Gump, save for a few telephone calls and one subsequent e-mail to a man who, as plaintiff admits, never returned them,” the judge wrote in Sivin-Tobin v. Akin Gump, 107123/06. “As such, it cannot be said that defendant accepted the alleged ‘services’ plaintiff performed.”
Sivin Thursday expressed disappointment in the decision and said he would appeal it.
“It doesn’t reflect the reality of the industry,” he said. Most headhunters and firms follow a “first-come, first-served” approach, he added.
Sivin also took issue with the judge’s characterization of his work on the placement. He said he spent a considerable amount of time working with Kim and getting him interested in Akin Gump, which he knew had a Korea practice. Sivin said he would have expected Vine, as head of the New York office, to forward the resume internally.