The hardship of pro bono clients, Steven Simkin edition

By Felix Salmon
May 31, 2011
Peter Lattman follows up today on the only-in-New-York story of Paul Weiss partner Steven Simkin, who wants to claw back money from his ex-wife on the grounds that he was invested with Bernie Madoff when they got divorced:

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Peter Lattman follows up today on the only-in-New-York story of Paul Weiss partner Steven Simkin, who wants to claw back money from his ex-wife on the grounds that he was invested with Bernie Madoff when they got divorced:

Mr. Simkin’s lawyers — his colleagues at Paul Weiss — described their partner in court papers as “gravely damaged” and suffering “extreme hardship” as a result of the Madoff fraud.

The annual profits per partner at Paul Weiss are about $3 million, according to The American Lawyer magazine. Last October, Mr. Simkin sold his Scarsdale home for $5.7 million and bought another in nearby Mamaroneck for $4.1 million, according to state real estate records. Paul Weiss, a law firm renowned for its litigation department, is representing Mr. Simkin free of charge.

There are two outrageous things going on here. First is the claim of “extreme hardship” — a claim that Paul Weiss is actually making with a straight face.

extreme.tiff

Does anybody at Paul Weiss have the slightest notion what “extreme hardship” actually is? Or any hardship at all, for that matter, beyond the hardship involved in drafting SEC shelf registrations at 3 am? Notably, the complaint in this case doesn’t actually give any concrete indication of what Simkin’s extreme hardship entails, probably because any such indication would be ludicrous on its face. (He had to give up his dreams of a third home in the Caribbean!)

More scandalous still, however, is the fact that Paul Weiss’s lawyers are working pro bono for their multi-millionaire colleague and client. The New York City Bar Association’s statement of pro bono principles, which is meant to be available here, seems to have disappeared from the web, but Noah Kazis summarized it when writing about Gibson Dunn in February. Pro bono clients should be confined to:

  • persons of limited means,
  • charitable, religious, civic, cultural, community, governmental and educational organizations committed to serving the needs of persons of limited means and/or in matters which are designed primarily to address the needs of persons of limited means,
  • individuals, groups or organizations seeking to secure or protect civil rights, civil liberties or public rights,
  • individuals, groups or organizations who have been harmed by a natural disaster or public emergency or who are providing assistance to persons harmed by a natural disaster or public emergency, and
  • charitable, religious, civic, cultural, community, governmental and educational organizations in matters in furtherance of their organizational purposes, where the payment of legal fees would significantly deplete the organization’s economic resources.”

It’s pretty obvious that Simkin doesn’t fall into any of these categories.

A few questions, then, for Paul Weiss: What are the grounds on which you decided to take on Simkin as a pro bono client? Do you represent all your partners for free when they get into litigation with their exes? Does the work you’re doing on the Simkin case count towards the total pro bono hours that you’re reporting to the New York City bar? And what, exactly, is the “extreme hardship” that Simkin is suffering?

I’ll be very impressed indeed if Paul Weiss even attempts to answer these questions. But given that they refused to comment to the New York Times, I’m not holding my breath.

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