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Lawyer Fires Back at Chadbourne Women

The Careerist

September 21, 2016

David-Sanford-Article-201609152221Just as I had predicted, the Chadbourne & Park gender discrimination case isn't quieting down.

A few days ago, I reported on how 14 female partners at Chadbourne publicly chided David Sanford for bringing a class action for gender discrimination. (Sanford is representing Chadbourne partner Kerrie Campbell.) The 14 women wrote an angry letter to Sanford in which they lambasted him for being "patronizing and patriarchal" in filing a class action without contacting them first.

Sanford is firing back. In an "open letter," Sanford address their complaints. I won't go into all his arguments but let's look at the issue that triggered the "patronizing and patriarchal" charge in the first place.

Sanford writes in his rebuttal letter that he made no effort to contact women about the class action, because "many states, including New York, where the complaint was filed, prohibit lawyers from soliciting clients with whom they have no prior relationship." He goes on to say "our unsolicited contact with any of you arguably would have violated the legal ethics rules that we strictly follow as responsible attorneys."

It all sounds very sober and reasonable. But is it true? I asked my old law professor Stephen Gillers of NYU School of Law and this is what he says: "Solicitation is forbidden in New York only if it is telephonic or 'real time' or interactive," but it is "not forbidden if it is by mail, express mail, or email."

Gillers, in fact, finds it "odd" that in a case with such a small class, unlike class actions with thousands of potential plaintiffs,  "why [Sanford]—or his client—did not think to ask the other women to join as parties." Beside, Gillers add, "his client would not have been bound by the rule's prohibition of in person solicitation."
 
In other words, all this high-minded talk about being ethically constrained in contacting the other Chadbourne partners is a bit misleading if not bogus. So why didn't Sanford do so in the first place? "Maybe he didn't understand the rule before he filed and wrongly thought that he could not even email or snail mail the women," offers Gillers.
 
Well, I'm not sure I believe that. By all accounts, Sanford is a smart, experienced lawyer. Most likely, he swept everyone into a class to make a big splash.
 
That said, I don't think any of this really matters. As Sanford correctly points out in his letter, the women are free to opt out.
 
Sanford could have—and maybe should have—contacted the other women. But did he act in a "patronizing and patriarchal" fashion? If you ask me, that characterization sounds a bit melodramatic.
 
It's a lot of posturing on both sides. Surprised?
 
vchen@alm.com

Comments

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Great analysis, Vivia. You concisely capture the weakness in his reply but also note the high-drama of the response of the Chadbourne women. Perhaps they were encouraged by firm management to denigrate the class action. Big Law is capable of endless machinations!

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About The Careerist

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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