Law Firms

Cooley is praised for refusing to fire associate disliked by Elon Musk because of past SEC work

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Elon Musk

Elon Musk at the Tesla factory in Fremont, California. Photo by Maurizio Pesce via Wikimedia Commons.

Cooley has reportedly refused to fire an associate at the behest of its client Elon Musk, co-founder and CEO of Tesla, and it is apparently losing some Tesla business as a result, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Musk wanted to fire the associate because the lawyer had interviewed Musk while investigating a 2018 Musk tweet while at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The story is based on anonymous sources.

Musk’s tweet about possibly taking Tesla private led to a settlement in which Musk agreed to step down as chairman for the automaker for three years and to pay a $20 million fine.

The associate was not working on any Tesla matters.

Court documents indicate that Tesla has been taking steps to replace Cooley or to hire additional lawyers. interviewed several past leaders of large law firms for their take on Cooley’s stance. They applauded Cooley’s refusal to fire the associate.

The leaders and their comments to included:

• Former Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe chairman and CEO Ralph Baxter: “To be a great law firm, you must organize it and lead it in a way that is principled. You simply can’t permit outsiders, even clients, even highly valued clients to dictate how you run the law firm. … Cooley isn’t going to tell Tesla how to engineer its cars, and Elon Musk and Telsa aren’t going to tell Cooley how to run its law firm.”

• Fox Rothschild chairman emeritus Abe Reich: “What Elon Musk is doing is strong-arming a law firm because he can. He’s a very wealthy, valuable client, and he’s pissed off at this SEC guy, and he wants to get him fired. If someone presented that to me, I’d say, ‘Elon Musk, stick your head in the Tesla car and drive away.’”

• K&L Gates chairman emeritus Peter Kalis: “It’s all about integrity, independence and fidelity to professional standards. … Stand up for your personnel. Clients can be replaced, but a firm’s reputation, once lost, cannot.”

Representatives for Cooley and Tesla did not comment when contacted by

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