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Jones Day Is Secretive About Why It's Secretive

Vivia Chen

July 2, 2018

Maybe someone should tell Jones Day to chill. Or at least get better public relations advice.
I just read Jones Day's response to the gender discrimination case it's now facing, and I find it to be baffling, if not a bit weird. (Former Jones Day partner Wendy Moore filed a complaint, alleging that she paid paid unfairly.)
But before we get into the weeds, let's talk about those Jones Day family binds. Remember James Burnham, the $810,000 sixth-year associate who made a cameo in Moore's complaint? (Her complaint  noted that he made about the same amount as she did as an eighth year partner.) As you might remember, I discovered a fascinating tidbit about Burnham: Just before joining the firm, he married into Jones Day royalty—the daughter of Robert Mittelstaedt, then head of the firm's San Francisco office. 
Now, guess whose name is on the latest Jones Day response? Mittelstaedt (now of counsel), the golden associate's father-in-law. How cozy! You'd think a firm with 2500-plus lawyers would find someone else to handle this matter, especially since Mittelstaedet's son-in-law is mentioned in the complaint. Whatever.
Anyway, let's focus on Jones Day's response—namely, its request to bury all documents in the case.  

In a filing with the California court, Mittelstaedt wrote that Moore's "complaint violates the partnership agreement signed by the former partner in multiple respects." As Scott Flaherty reports in Law.com, Jones Day is essentially arguing that "Moore breached her partnership agreement just by filing her complaint."

Okay, I get that, I think. Jones Day is saying that this matter has to be decided by an arbitrator, which is not an unusual argument in these type of matters.

But what seems to set Jones Day apart from most firms in this kind of suit is that it wants all documents in the case to be sealed. Locked forever in a black box. 

The reason for this request is murky. Jones Day submitted a bunch of memos to the court to support its request for secrecy, but guess what? They are all secret! The contents are largely redacted!

But what we do know so far is that Jones Day abhors the spotlight it's in. Here's what Jones Day wrote in the filing that's public:

The litigation was accompanied by press coverage generated by plaintiff's counsel who issued an inflammatory press release. Plaintiff has no legitimate reason for her conduct which has the inevitable effect of harming Jones Day. Given the high likelihood of harm, it is essential for the complaint to be sealed as soon as possible.

Let's parse this. Jones Day accuses Moore's lawyers (Sanford Heisler Sharp) of sending out an "inflammatory press release." Aren't all press release by opposing counsel in a litigation context biased, even "inflammatory" in its rhetoric? 
As for Jones Day's contention that Moore "has no legitimate reason for her conduct," I think that's a complicated way of saying she had the audacity to bring a lawsuit. And the resulting "harm" to  Jones Day? Well, what can I say? It seems kind of hard to levy charges of discrimination without saying some not-so-nice things about the firm in the process. Isn't potential harm to reputation, profit, whatever part and parcel of the litigation process? 
And Jones Day's request that the "complaint to be sealed as soon as possible?" Too late! This lawsuit is already out there—and it's a doozy (remember that stuff in the complaint about how female partners were uncomfortable with client development events centered at spas?)!
I'm sorry, I just don't get what Jones Day is trying to achieve with this quest for secrecy. Is it saying that the firm's black box compensation scheme is so sacrosanct and special that if details spilled out, it would lose its secret sauce forever? Or is the firm scared that once information about its compensation gets out, there could be mutiny?
In any case, Jones Day comes off as, well, super secretive. And that's not a winsome image. 
My next post: Can Jones Day keep its secrets? The experts weigh in.
Email me: vchen@alm.com
Twitter: @lawcareerist


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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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