I always like to have things in writing. I hate making deals on the phone or in person, and prefer having all discussions over e-mail. Why? Because I'm honest: having things on paper has never hurt me. Luckily, with the advent of e-mail, people are more willing to put things in writing - even though they do so subconsciously. Which is what allegedly happened at Orrick.
Patrick J. Hoeffner, a senior associate at Orrick, had a lucrative - and portable - client: indeed, he had two outstanding offers from firms willing to take him and his client. Instead of accepting those offers, he continued working at Orrick after three partners allegedly offered to put him up for partner.
But partners, being partners, allegedly worried about their wallets - not their promises. And they ultimately, according to the lawsuit, broke their promise:
[The] agreement was allegedly memorialized in a March 26, 2002, e-mail Hoeffner sent to Isackson, MacKerron and Anthony. The e-mail allegedly stated that Hoeffner's understanding was that he could elect to be put up for partner in September 2003, with the pledged support of "at least" Anthony, Isackson and Cote. According to a copy of the alleged e-mail provided to the Law Journal, Anthony replied: "Your understanding is correct. Thank you for making the right decision!"
Of course, Orrick's partner's are denying that anyone made an agreement. Maybe they're right, though it's hard to understand why the associate wouldn't have accepted the other offers. Plus, the associate is now working at Fulbright & Jaworski, which is no place for underachievers. Orrick is going to have a hard time proving that someone with a portable book of business, other job opportunities, and high employability imagined the agreement.
Anyhow, the full article is worth reading. Obviously, anyone considering working for, or currently working at, Orrick should watch her back. And everyone should remember this maxim: An oral promise is worth the paper it's written on.