LOS ANGELES (CN) – An attorney with Seyfarth Shaw says the firm’s managing partners forced him to take the fall for Tae Boe creator Billy Blanks’ $30 million legal malpractice suit, and turned the office into a place where “the pursuit and collection of money” from clients – referred to as “bozos on the bus” – became “the primary directive” for attorneys and “the chief preoccupation” of the managers.
William H. Lancaster was an equity partner in the firm from 2000 until 2005, when Blanks won the first round of the malpractice suit, though that verdict was tossed out in February, Lancaster says in his Superior Court complaint.
Lancaster says his superiors and colleagues lauded his work and the business he brought in, and consistently assured him that the Blanks lawsuit was not his fault. Nonetheless, he says he was told in 2005 by Kenwood Youmans, managing partner at the firm’s Los Angeles office where Lancaster worked, that if he did not step down things were going to be “very difficult for him” and that “every case on which [he] worked would be scrutinized and overseen extensively, subjecting [him] to “relentless second-guessing.”
Lancaster sued the firm and its board of directors, alleging breach of fiduciary duty, intentional misrepresentation, negligent misrepresentation, infliction of emotional distress and unfair competition.
He says his demotion coincided with a change in the firm’s management style from an equity partner model to a chairman of the board model.
Lancaster says he was pushed out of his partnership in part because board members wanted to enhance their equity by limiting the number of partners and making the firm more expansion-ready in an era where consolidation is driving out all but the biggest firms.
This change in management style, Lancaster says, coincided with a change in the firm’s priorities. The pursuit and collection of money became “the primary directive of Seyfarth, and … the chief occupation of the individual defendants as managers of the firm,” Lancaster says.
Lancaster, who apparently still works for the firm, cites e-mails sent by Youmans in which he praises the firms attorneys for “prying cash out of clients’ hands” and challenges them to “hustle for cash like you’ve never done before.”
“In substance the defendants saw themselves as the drivers of profit, managers of money making, and attorneys became the guarantors of payments owed by their clients, the ‘bozos on the bus’ as [defendant Edward] Kaplan called them, subject to retribution in their own compensation and status if they did not obtain payment on invoices they generated,” according to his complaint.
A spokesman for Seyfarth Shaw said in an e-mail that the charges are false.
“We believe the lawsuit is without merit and will vigorously defend ourselves,” the spokesman said.
The complaint names Stephen Poor, chairman of the firm’s executive committee and managing partner, as well as board members Youmans, Kaplan, Lisa Damon, William Dritsas, Eugene Jacobs, William Mattingly.
Lancaster is represented by Michael Avenatti with Eagan O’Malley.