Big Law:A Novel(4)

By: Ron Liebman

“Thank you,” he finally said.

No, thank you, I was about to say when I realized I was being dismissed. (“Thank you” was spelled “good-bye.”)

This time it was me who nodded at Carl Smith. Then I got up and left.


So I was back in my broom closet of an office.

I spent the rest of the day reading Smith’s e-mailed file. It was a doozy of a case. It looked like the case had come in through a young Indian lawyer who had handled it in his home country but now needed help from an American law firm.

Of course, that wasn’t the real story.

The case was a monkey trap. (I’ll explain in a minute.) It began with another lawyer named Peter Moss.

And who was he?

A Harvard Law School classmate of Carl’s. They didn’t get along. Not then, not ever.

Peter Moss had accepted a post-law-school offer from Dunn & Sullivan. Two years later, after Carl Smith’s Supreme Court clerkship ended, he also came to Dunn & Sullivan. From the start they were oil and water. Two young associate attorneys in heavy competition for a hard-to-get partnership.

The partners at the time were amused by their rivalry. These two bright and aggressive young lawyers neck and neck, racing to the finish line, jostling each other at every available opportunity.

And then Peter was brought into a supervising partner’s office and told he had no future at the firm. Just like that he was out of a job. And to make matters worse, an innuendo of bothersome behavior clung to his abrupt departure like chewing gum to the sole of a shoe.

Peter was convinced that Smith’s invisible hand had pushed him out the door. Carl was an absolute master of behind-the-scenes maneuvering, a regular Svengali. The partners had done the firing, but Peter was convinced that Carl was the snitch.

There was nothing specific, only a murky rumor. But it was enough. Peter had difficulty finding another job.

Was it true? The bad behavior?

Probably not.

The best that Peter Moss could do was a modest, midsize law firm in Washington, D.C. He sucked it up, accepted the offer (at considerably less pay), and moved his young family to the District.

And he gave it his all. In addition to being very smart, Peter was a good-looking, engaging guy. Just over six feet tall, he kept his wiry build with YMCA indoor-pool laps, much as he had done on his high-school and college swim teams. His stick-straight sandy hair and bright eyes gave him a familiarity that clients found reassuring.

So he threw himself into his new firm. It didn’t take long before he had risen to a position of leadership. And then he set about growing the firm. Taking a page out of the playbook of Wall Street’s mergers-and-acquisitions gurus, Peter acquired other law firms, and before long he sat at the head of a Big Law contender.

As the firm ballooned in size, Peter opened an office in New York, then Chicago, then Miami, and so on. And then he set his sights on Dunn & Sullivan.

After all, Peter had a score to settle.

And so the monkey trap.


You need a sealed box with a coconut in it.

You cut a hole in the box large enough for the monkey’s hand but too small to prevent the coconut from being removed from inside the box. The monkey has his arm through the hole, his fist around the delicious coconut, but he can’t get the coconut out. The monkey holds on to the coconut. The monkey gets caught.

If the new case was the coconut, Peter Moss figured Carl Smith for the monkey.

There was a method to Peter’s madness. This was more than vindictiveness. Sure, he wanted to settle a score, but Peter had indeed become a “Wall Street” type. It was inevitable. Commercial law was all about big business. Gone were the days of practicing law like some kind of country doctor.

Mason Rose (that was the name of Peter’s law firm) needed to grow. A takeover of Dunn & Sullivan would catapult them squarely into the majors. To survive you needed big clients with big cases who paid big bucks for their legal representation. Peter had kept his eye on Carl Smith’s law firm. He considered it an underperformer stock. So he was first going to hobble it. Then gobble it.

But could he pull it off? He thought so. He also knew his enemy. While his firm might be in trouble, Carl Smith was a formidable opponent. There were definite risks here. As the saying goes, if you take a shot at the king, you’d better kill him. Otherwise he’ll kill you.

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