More top level departures signal further trouble for the battling white collar crime firm
Dan Garner – The ranks of the Pierce Bainbridge Beck Hecht & Price departed is now around 25 lawyers in the last several months. Thomas Frongillo, Theodore “Ted” Folkman, Yavar Bathaee and Caroline Polisi are the latest partners to abandon Team Pierce, bring the partner total alone to at least 12.
The Frongillo departure must smart for the firm. Former partners Eric Creizman and Melissa Madrigal quit shortly after being tabbed to represent Rudy Giuliani. In response, managing partner John Pierce stated: “I will personally be working on Rudy’s matters along with my partners, Tom Warren and Tom Frongillo, both of whom are nationally renowned white-collar lawyers.”
Frongillo quit weeks later. Joining the three partners are former counsel Matthew Rand, Julie Capehart and associate Stephen Farrelly.
Pierce has typically characterized the deluge of quitting Pierce Bainbridge attorneys as too soft to be “Navy SEALs,” “Army Rangers;” not having “Kevlar skin;” and not “willing to swallow some risk.”
The hyperbole has seen him mocked, often mercilessly, in the media for the statements, but there have been other, underlying accusations and issues that may indicate the reason for the exodus.
For instance, among the various issues, incidents and accusations that have enveloped the firm:
- Accusations against Pierce from firm personnel of dishonesty, substance abuse and use of the firm as a ‘piggy bank’;
- The mysterious past of second in command Jim Bainbridge;
- New York Office Managing Partner David Hecht boasting publicly after a federal judge found him to have violated the Rules of Professional Conduct; and
- Accusations that partners Christopher N. LaVigne and Denver G. Edwards lied in sworn affidavits, cannot have helped.
LaVigne’s case is particularly serious and bewildering. Text messages show LaVigne accusing Pierce of theft and advising that he be reported to a lawyer. LaVigne apparently subsequently changed his view and allegedly lied under oath to protect Pierce, which LaVigne denies.
Denver Edwards sits on the Middlebury College Board of Trustees and has publicly accused New York State Attorney General Letitia James of “lies about her cases.”
Former partner Don Lewis says: “Edwards is a hypocrite. he lied under oath dozens of times, lied in New York in the morning and lied in Los Angeles in the evening.”
Notwithstanding these issues, Pierce Bainbridge has managed to attract big name clients and big name outside lawyers.
From Avenatti to Giuliani
The clients include CNN’s Don Lemon, Rudy Giuliani, Tulsi Gabbard, Michael Avenatti, and Lenny Dykstra; the firm is represented by Marc Mukasey of Mukasey, of Mukasey, Frenchman & Sklaroff LLP (dubbed by Yahoo as “The Lawyer at the Center of the Trump Universe”) in a messy dispute with former partner Don Lewis.
In addition, the law firms of Putney Twombly Hirson & Hall LLP and Littler Mendelson were all in with John Pierce; and have been sued by Lewis.
The Pierce Bainbridge exodus has been remarkable. Equally remarkable are statements made by the departed partners around the time of hiring.
NEW PARTNER EXITS
Yavar Bathaee (formerly of Sullivan & Cromwell) — “Pierce Bainbridge is a new breed of litigation firm, relentlessly focused both on innovation and victory for its clients. I am delighted to join the firm.” — Bathaee, May 20, 2019
Ted Folkman (formerly of Murphy & King) — “I’ve known John Pierce for … more than 20 years …I think when people see what we’re capable of doing, across industries, it’s going to be a great success, so that’s a hard thing to say no to.” Folkman, January 3, 2019.
Thomas Frongillo (formerly of Fish & Richardson) — “I’m honored to join this highly talented group of accomplished lawyers. . . We will replicate this model as we rapidly expand in the Boston market.” Frongillo, February 13, 2019.
Caroline Polisi (contributor on Fox, CNN and NBC) – Pierce has frequently referred to Polisi as a “superstar,” it appears this superstar, who was reportedly responsible for landing the firm high-profile clients on Don Lemon and George Papadopoulos has decided to take her talents elsewhere.
NEW COUNSEL & ASSOCIATE EXITS
Julie Capehart (formerly of Sullivan & Webster)
Matthew Rand (formerly of McKool Smith)
Stephen Farrelly (formerly of Jones Day)
PRIOR RECENT PERSONNEL EXITS
Almost twenty lawyers had recently greased the Pierce Bainbridge departure skids. Those attorneys and their current stations are:
Partners: Eric Creizman (Armstrong Teasedale); Deborah Renner (Renner Law); Melissa Madrigal (Armstrong Teasedale); Michael Winograd (Brown Rudnick); Robert Allen (Glaser Weil); Joan Meyer (Thompson Hine); Jeff Alexander (Wachtell Missry); Susan Winkler (Winkler Law); Jeffrey Newton (Kobre Kim)
Associates: Clairborne Hane (Kasowitz Benson Torres); Minoti Patel (Grant & Eisenhofer); W. Tyler Perry (Reid Collins & Tsai); Abbye Ognibene (Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro); Elizabeth DeGori (Kirkland & Ellis); Barron Flood (Herbert, Smith & Freehills); Aaron Gold (Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe) Cassie Black; Matthew Kokot.
Chief Marketing Officer and Of Counsel: Kristin “Krissie” Darr.
STAYING WITH TEAM PIERCE
A group of partners, however, apparently are “willing to swallow some risk,” as Pierce prefers. The partners include Amman Khan, Andy Lorin, Chris LaVigne, Conor McDonough, Craig Bolton, Douglas Curran, Mike Pomerantz and Patrick Bradford.
All were at the firm when Lewis was terminated.
Given marine machismo Pierce’s earlier reported misogynistic and sexist commentary, the absence of a single female in the picture above is disappointing but perhaps not surprising.
DELUSIONS OR REALITY
Pierce talks of “elite,” “excellence,” “dominant,” “profitable, and “world class.”
However his prognostication that Pierce Bainbridge was on a growth path that would surpass Quinn Emanuel and Wachtell Lipton in the next three to five years is quintessential Pierce talk.
The former tank platoon leader is now facing desertions on a major scale with around 25 attorneys quitting in the last several months alone.
As the saying goes: “If the problems you have this year are the same problems you had last year, then you are not a leader. You are rather a problem on your own that must be solved.”
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