Investment Banks Spread Employment Cases Among Law Firms

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By Gayle Cinquegrani

Big investment banks with workplace legal concerns frequently turn to the labor and employment lawyers at full-service law firms that handle their core financial business instead of to specialty law firms, a Bloomberg BNA analysis shows.

The banks with the largest number of labor and employment cases are the most likely to use specialty labor and employment law firms, Bloomberg BNA’s research indicates.

“Big financial institutions use many different law firms,” Joseph Altonji, a founding principal of consulting firm LawVision Group, told Bloomberg BNA June 12. “In general, most big financial companies are not going to go to their high-end firms for employment work.” He pointed out, however, that some major full-service firms have well-regarded labor and employment practices--including Proskauer Rose, Jones Day, Morgan Lewis, and Paul Hastings.

Indeed, the data support Altonji’s observations. Bloomberg BNA used Bloomberg Law’s Litigation Analytics tool to study the federal court appearances lawyers entered in non-ERISA labor and employment law cases filed against major investment banks during a 12-month period.

McGuire Woods and Seyfarth Led

Of the law firms that entered the most appearances from July 1, 2016, to June 7, 2017, full-service law firm McGuire Woods and Seyfarth Shaw, which began as a worklaw firm and remains prominent in worklaw practice, tied for first place with 17 cases each.

Full-service firm Sheppard Mullin and worklaw firm Littler Mendelson tied for second place, with 10 cases each. Worklaw firm Ogletree Deakins was in third place with nine cases, while full-service firm Morgan Lewis filled fourth place with seven cases. Bressler Amery & Ross—a firm that primarily does securities work for financial institutions--was in fifth place, with five cases.

Bloomberg Law’s Litigation Analytics shows that 29.7 percent of McGuire Woods’ appearances in federal court on worklaw cases during the period was on behalf of major bank clients. Bank of America accounted for 26 percent of the firm’s federal court appearances in labor and employment cases and Wells Fargo for 3.7 percent.

For Bressler Amery & Ross, worklaw cases on behalf of major banks accounted for 25.6 percent of its federal court appearances. In 15.7 percent of the appearances, the firm represented Bank of America; in 5.9 percent, it represented Merrill Lynch; and it represented both Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo in 2 percent of its appearances.

Almost 5 percent of Morgan Lewis’ federal court appearances were on behalf of major banks, with JPMorgan accounting for 2.6 percent of the firm’s appearances, Bank of America accounting for 1.2 percent, Morgan Stanley for 0.7 percent, and Wells Fargo for 0.4 percent.

Wells Fargo Is a Major Client

Worklaw cases on behalf of major banks accounted for 5.3 percent of Seyfarth Shaw’s federal court appearances, with 4 percent for Wells Fargo and 1.3 percent for JPMorgan Chase.

Wells Fargo was responsible for 4.3 percent of Sheppard Mullin’s federal court appearances in worklaw cases and 1.2 percent of Littler Mendelson’s.

JPMorgan Chase accounted for 1 percent of Ogletree Deakins’ federal court appearances in labor and employment cases.

Bloomberg Law’s Litigation Analytics indicated that 75 percent of Littler Mendelson’s federal court appearances related to labor and employment law, followed by Ogletree Deakins with 59.4 percent and Seyfarth Shaw with 38.5 percent. Morgan Lewis came in at 25.9 percent, followed by Bressler Amery & Ross with 25.6 percent, Sheppard Mullin with 21.3 percent, and McGuire Woods with 11.5 percent.

Full-Service and Specialty Firms

Major banks seem to distribute their labor and employment legal matters fairly evenly among worklaw boutiques and general service law firms.

“If you have a long and trusted relationship” with lawyers at a general service firm, “you are very likely to go to the labor and employment lawyers” there, according to Barbara Mayden, a principal at legal consulting firm Young Mayden in Nashville, Tenn. During the past few years, however, “as lawyers have become more mobile, and general counsel have been more cost-conscious, they very often shop the business” around to other law firms that may offer better value, Mayden told Bloomberg BNA June 12.

As a result, large investment firms use labor and employment boutique firms as well as general service law firms for their labor and employment matters. “There are great labor and employment lawyers in the big firms, and there are great labor and employment lawyers at the labor and employment firms,” Mayden said.

The large investment houses “will have ongoing relationships with labor and employment firms,” but if a complex issue arises, they’ll go to a lawyer who specializes in that topic, Mayden said. “If you have a visible and touchy discrimination issue,” for example, you may want to bring in a specialist who has dealt with that issue before rather than rely on the firm that generally handles your routine worklaw matters, she said. And that’s true even though the rates may be higher in the large firm, she noted.

To contact the reporter on this story: Gayle Cinquegrani in Washington at gcinquegrani@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tony Harris at tharris@bna.com

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