Update (January 22, 2020): Closing the loop on the post below, this week U.S. District Court Judge John R. Tunheim (Chief Judge) affirmed Judge Bowbeer’s decision allowing Taft Stettinius & Hollister (fka Briggs & Morgan) to withdraw. Judge Tunheim made short work of it, largely relying the highly deferential standard owed to magistrate judge decisions on nondispositive pretrial matters.
Original post (December 16, 2019): It seems like it was only last Thursday (it was last Thursday) when we posted about the Briggs & Morgan merger with Taft Stettinius & Hollister to become Taft (“A Dios, Briggs”).
We specifically highlighted that Briggs was seeking to withdraw from representing a business (FurnitureDealer.net, Inc.) that was in litigation against a Taft client, Amazon.com, Inc. (“Amazon”).
Following up, a Minnesota Litigator reader (HT: Tx, KP!) pointed out Briggs’ effort to withdraw as counsel for FurnitureDealer.net is opposed by FurnitureDealer.net.
Eric Cooperstein, of Minnesota’s most well-known ethics experts, argues that that Briggs is attempting to “drop[ a] disfavored client like a hot potato” in violation of ethics rules (and the “hot potato doctrine”). FurnitureDealer.net, represented by Mr. Cooperstein, in sum, takes the position that Briggs cannot ethically withdraw.
In his affidavit, Mr. Andy Bernstein, FurnitureDealer.net’s C.E.O., points out that Briggs lawyers have been on this case for five (5) years (here at p. 12-19).
We are not going to predict the outcome of the decision before the Court in this matter. We note, however, that many law firm mergers have literally been derailed by clients who refuse to waive conflicts. Further, dumping a client to effect a merger is quite patently inconsistent with lawyers’ fiduciary duties owed to their clients. And, finally, there can be no serious dispute that FurnitureDealer.net would be adversely affected by the loss of its lawyers in the middle of a longstanding, large, and expensive lawsuit.