Ousted Paul Hastings Associate Explains Scathing Mass E-Mail

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Updated: An associate fired from Paul Hastings six days after her miscarriage says she sent a mass e-mail criticizing the action to support other ousted lawyers who “left the firm with their tails under their legs.”

The associate, Shinyung Oh, spoke to the Wall Street Journal Law Blog yesterday evening, days after her emotional e-mail was posted on the blog Above the Law. Oh said the firm laid her off from the San Francisco office after giving her a surprising mediocre performance review. Only a week before, a partner had assured Oh her work as a commercial litigator was great, she wrote, and past reviews had been stellar.

Oh told the Law Blog that she wanted to support other associates who may have been told they were being fired because of their performance, when in reality they may have been laid off in a firmwide downsizing. “I want them to feel like they’re not completely alone and not to worry about their own performance when it’s the firm doing something for economic reasons” and because of a “desire to increase partner profits,” she said.

Above the Law claims that at least 22 lawyers have been laid off by the firm in the past year or so.

Above the Law posted Oh’s e-mail and along with a severance agreement she says she refused to sign.

“After my miscarriage, I had discussed my concern with several associates that Paul Hastings may use that opportunity to lay me off quickly before I have a chance to get pregnant again,” Oh wrote. “Those associates thought it unfathomable that a firm would be so callous and assured me that Paul Hastings isn’t that kind of a place. What a lesson this has been for them—and for me. I would not have anticipated that a partner would tell me one thing and completely renege on his words a week later.”

Oh told the Law Blog that two other associates who may have been fired “left the firm with their tails under their legs,” and that she didn’t “want to walk out under the guise that I’d done something wrong.” She sent the e-mail to all associates in the firm, top litigation partners and firm managers.

She added that she doesn’t plan to sue the firm and doesn’t think she was discriminated against because of her pregnancy.

Eileen King, global director of public relations for Paul Hastings, told the firm typically does not comment on employment-related matters, but it disagrees with Oh’s description of what occurred.

King also said the firm is in good financial shape after a “strong 2007 performance and a strong first quarter.” She said the firm is hiring 184 summer associates, its largest summer class ever, and there has been a year-over-year increase in the associate ranks and its “head count overall.” King did not offer any additional comments, but she told the American Lawyer that any associates let go left as part of the annual performance review process. She didn’t give numbers, but said they were in line with last year’s cuts.

Oh’s missive is representative of the increased power of associates to air law firm disputes, discussed in an earlier post. Complaints find their way to blogs where they receive widespread coverage. Some law firms are fighting back by requiring in employment agreements that workplace disputes be arbitrated instead of litigated. In Paul Hastings’ case, its severance agreement reportedly tried to keep criticism out of the news media.

The severance agreement posted to Above the Law requires departing lawyers to give up claims against the law firm in exchange for compensation and to refrain from making disparaging remarks about the firm or its lawyers. It also contains a confidentiality provision barring disclosure of the terms of the agreement.

Updated at 9:54 a.m. on 05-09-2008 to include comments from Eileen King, global director of public relations for Paul Hastings. Updated again at 4:34 p.m. on 05-09-2008 to include King’s comments to the American Lawyer.

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