Law Firms

BigLaw partner sent 'scathing' exit email defending recruit to colleagues, clients


Don Prophete. Photo
used with permission.

Updated: In a highly unusual public criticism of his now-former law firm, a partner of Ogletree Deakins Nash Smoak & Stewart complained to colleagues and clients in an email as he exited in March about what he called a “completely unacceptable” response to a female shareholder’s complaint that she had been treated by an office manager in a discriminatory manner.

All the details are not available, because both the partner who sent the March 20 email, Don Prophete, and Ogletree have declined to discuss it publicly, Reuters reports.

Reuters characterized the email as “scathing.”

“I cannot be part of a firm that treats its diverse lawyers the way they treated the complaining shareholder,” the email stated according to Reuters, which verified the authenticity with Ogletree. Prophete went on to complain that a firm manager “began to retaliate against the complaining shareholder by excluding her from office decisions, calling her a ‘thug,’ alleging marital infidelities and disparaging her excellent work product and reputation to the office associates.”

Ogletree’s managing shareholder, Kim Ebert, who was not the subject of the complaint, defended his firm’s culture and integrity.

“Don Prophete’s letter constitutes an attack on our firm by someone whose larger motives are incomprehensible to us,” he said in a written statement provided to the ABA Journal. “Two indisputable facts provide critical context: The shareholders of the firm voted overwhelmingly for him to leave, and he never made any allegations of harassment, discrimination, or retaliation prior to his departure. Further, when we learned of his after-the-fact allegations (upon receiving a copy of the email he sent to others, not the firm), a full investigation was conducted and his allegations could not be substantiated.”

Meanwhile, Prophete, who moved to Littler Mendelson in April along with eight other lawyers from Ogletree, said the issue is behind him.

His email contended that the Ogletree firm took a “laissez-faire” attitude when he reported that a female lawyer he had recruited to work with him at the firm had experienced discrimination and harassment from a managing attorney, as well as retaliation, when she complained. Then, when Prophete threatened to resign and take his team with him over the way the matter had been handled, he was asked to resign, he said.

Such public airing of internal law firm disputes is highly unusual, at least in part because a partner’s criticism of his or her law firm could violate anti-disparagement provisions often included in partnership agreements, experts told Reuters.

However, such provisions typically apply only while a partner is still with the firm, said Ned Bassen of Hughes Hubbard and Reed.

It appears that there is currently no legal action of any kind concerning the dispute, either regarding the claimed mistreatment of the unidentified female lawyer at Ogletree or Prophete’s comments.

Another six lawyers from Ogletree are expected to join Littler on Monday, May 6, as subsequent post details.

See also:

Above the Law: “A Partner’s Bizarre Departure Memo”

Updated on May 3 to include Ogletree statement and subsequent Above the Law post and on May 6 to include information from subsequent post about new Littler hires from Ogletree.

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