Last month, a New York Times published an article on the breakup of a well known matrimonial law firm in New York City.
The article compares this breakup to several of the high profile and messy divorces that the firm has handled. The information in the article certainly echoes the stories we hear in divorce mediation. Apparently, the partners were close, but as their relationship evolved, promises were made but verbal agreements were never recorded and expectations were not met. A new partnership has been formed and the former partner seems surprised that others have moved on so quickly and without consulting him. A breach of contract and fraud case has been filed. It appears that the partnership that developed and thrived on the division of other people’s family assets wasn’t prepared for their own dissolution. They were unable to successfully negotiate a settlement internally and the former partner has sought redress in the courts.
If this was a class hypothetical, I’d ask my students to consider several different issues. What are the positions, needs and interests of the parties? What is the appropriate forum? Are they better off in court or some other form of conflict resolution, like mediation? As their counsel, what would you suggest they do next? I’d also ask my students what the firm partners could have done to avoid getting to this point in the case and what they would suggest in order to prevent this happening again.
This case also reminds me to discuss how students will need to recognize the importance of emotional issues in all types of cases, not just family cases. It is also a good example of the need to discuss conflict resolution clauses not just between clients and opposing parties, or the firm and clients, but between partners. Conflict resolution provisions may not have prevented these suits, but they could have changed the nature of them. What does this case say to you or how would you use it to teach?