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The Talented Mr. O'Riordan

Vivia Chen

October 8, 2013

Looking Up by RTimages via iStockphotoOh, come on now. Stop with the outrage. You're not truly shocked and horrified by that Paul Hastings partner who lied on his resume, are you? I know you would never do such an outrageous thing, but let's be honest: Aren't you somewhat impressed by what he pulled off?

I am. I think the man deserves a round of applause. Pulling the wool over the eyes of one firm is noteworthy enough, but it takes genuine talent and aplomb to fool two leading law firms.

In case you missed it, D. Thomas O'Riordan, erstwhile litigation partner at Paul Hastings's London office, was found to have fabricated major chunks of his CV. He listed degrees from Oxford and Harvard, plus admission to the New York and Irish bars that were all cut from whole cloth. The deception dates back to at least to 2007 when he started using his enhanced creds to shop for a new job. (In 2008, he was hired as a partner at Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft's London office, and then lateraled over to Paul Hastings.)

So what set O'Riordan (below) on the road to deception? I can't give you a psychological explanation, but let me offer a simplistic guess: He was giving elite law firms what they wanted—a candidate with the right pedigree. As we all know, those are clubby worlds—and it's hard to gain entry unless you wear the right school ties. And O'Riordan was clever enough to pick two schools (Oxford and Harvard) that would put him on top of the "must-have" list for legal employers.

But here's the twist in this whole twisted tale: Despite the fake credentials, O'Riordan was apparently a genuinely competent lawyer. RollOnFriday calls him "one of the top lawyers in the City," while The Lawyer reports that he was "well-liked" and "a key figure in London." (Before Cadwalader and Paul Hastings, he had also worked in top legal positions at Nomura, Sumitomo, Republic National Bank of New York, and two other British firms.)

The irony, of course, is that he was a perfectly decent lawyer, and those fancy degrees were meaningless ornaments. But he probably feared—perhaps correctly—that his resume might not have made it to the top of the heap without them. Ah, tO'Riordan_Dennishe vanity of the legal profession and its obsession with credentials!

But let's get back to the intriguing Mr. O'Riordan and his spectacular lies. How did he manage to fool so many for so long? Well, I think after he lied successfully the first time, he felt he was on a roll. The higher up you go on the corporate ladder, the less you're subject to scrutiny. Only the little people—paralegals, law students, and junior associates—are subject to school transcript checks and cavity searches.

But let me give you another theory why I think he passed so smoothly: He probably fit the part beautifully. Being a white, middle-aged male who looks like he could have just stepped off the golf course gives you instant credibility. In any endeavor.

 E-mail  Vivia Chen: vchen@alm.com     Follow her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/lawcareerist

Related post: Ex-Paul Hastings Partner Out Over Faked Credentials.


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Dear HKJ--You sound like my husband. Is that you, dear? V

Your blogs are always interesting, but I am noticing a trend... men's egos are too fragile to have successful wives, being white male gives you credibility... I get it, you don't like men. Maybe ease up on your bias?

Reminds me a bit of Whoopi Goldberg in, "The Associate." People will believe anything if they think there is enough money and a prestigious pedigree associated with the story. I don't want to spoil the story for those who haven't seen the movie, but let's just say Whoopi's character really snowed them - LOL!!

Your comment that "Only the little people—paralegals, law students, and junior associates—are subject to school transcript checks and cavity searches" is painfully true. What you forgot to mention is that the "gatekeepers" are usually people who couldn't recognize "a genuinely competent lawyer" if s/he was standing right in front of them. Wonder how these gatekeepers will explain why they let Mr. O'Riordan pass through the gates?

I think you left out tall, and somewhat quiet.

But seriously, understanding what it takes to get through the gates to the top, and faking your credentials to get through those gates, is social pathology. You and I both know people from lesser schools who overcame the club rules and rose, even in London.

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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