A unanimous panel of [a New York State appellate court] yesterday affirmed the dismissal of a $77 million wrongful termination suit against Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman brought by an ex-associate, Gregory Berry. Berry worked in the software industry for 15 years before going to the University of Pennsylvania Law School. After graduating in 2010, he was hired by Kasowitz, but was fired after less than a year.
According to his suit, Berry took the job because he was told that Kasowitz gave associates a high degree of freedom and responsibility. However, he said those representations proved false, and he was fired for asking for more responsibility in an email in which he wrote, among other things, that "after working here for several months now it has become clear that I have as much experience and ability as an associate many years my senior, as much skill writing, and a superior legal mind to most I have met."The way this kind of negotiation is supposed to work is that an associate of unusual ability or background gently reminds the powers-that-be that he is a valuable member of the team who can remain happy only if he is granted the kind of freedom and responsibility he'd been led to expect. If he doesn't get it, he may have to start listening more carefully to the many offers he is getting from other firms, though he hopes they can remain friends even if he leaves. It's a pretty delicate conversation to have with people who need to like you at least a little bit if they're going to continue working with you 16 hours a day. "I have a superior legal mind" is not a charming approach. Letting that email be published on the Net is almost as bad as a really awful Facebook picture.
And although I'd be the last to disparage the ability of an exceptional lawyer to earn exceptional pay, I have to laugh out loud at the idea of $77 million in damages, or at his unhappiness with $27,000 in severance, especially after he agreed to take it.