Whoa, doggie: Lots of ink and electrons have been spilled recently on a long-running intellectual property dispute between toy titan Mattel and its rival MGA Entertainment Inc., specifically over the companies’ unending feud over rights to the popular-selling Bratz dolls. A big decision, the latest in a series, came down late last week and much of the attention focused on the dramatic legal reverse Mattel has suffered, getting slapped with a $310 million adverse judgment. So while it isn’t the usual practice in this place to obsesses about the dollars and cents of Big Law in big cases, it’s hard to ignore in this matter and with recent actions connected with the U.S. Supreme Court rejecting a California statute aimed at restricting video games deemed too violent for kids. And it’s worth sneaking in a tiny tout about how exactly law students move from their law schools of choice to partnerships in those choice Big Law firms.
Let’s turn first to Mattel v. MGA Entertainment Inc., where the posted orders from last Friday by U.S. District Judge David O. Carter make for intriguing reading, beyond the judgment total. Like? How about the $137 million Carter ordered Mattel to pay to MGA for legal fees? Which the judge notes the big toymaker did not dispute, nor did it balk at the “conservative” hourly rate of $600 for opposing counsel. Part of the reason the Mattel team may have been unfazed by the opposition’s legal tab may be explained by analysts’ estimates that the El Segundo-based firm itself has spent $400 million on this case in various legal costs, notwithstanding the $390 million it may need to pay out if it elects to let Carter’s ruling stand.
Lest all these sums sound all too delicious, though, what also has played out in trade media — but not the popular press — has been the struggles of several big firms, including those in the latest legal triumphs, to maintain amicable business relations with client MGA. Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, which won plaudits for its role in winning last Friday’s decision, just a few months ago filed a motion to withdraw from representing MGA in a Bratz-related matter, claiming it was owed $1.2 million in attorney fees. And there are on-going legal disputes over attorney fees between MGA and what might be a roster of the biggest blue chips of Big Law.
California taxpayers, of course, may get their own eyeful of what it’s like to fork over big time for attorney fees when the opposition prevails, as the winning counsel in the recent High Court violent video games case has sought $1.4 million in attorney fees. Lyle Denniston, who has reported on the court for a lifetime, notes that this request is rare and his blog links to the motion that provides a fascinating tally of what a Big Law firm charges in time and billable hours for a big case.
Finally, in case the Wall Street Journal’s excellent Law Blog isn’t part of your daily reading, its authors put up an item pertinent to this post about Big Law and big money, specifically dealing with where partners come from (the aspiration of more than a few law students hunkered down, seriously, in their studies). So what’s the gilded path from law school to a downtown office with your name on it at the Big Law firms? Prof. Ted Seto, down the street at Loyola Law School, writes in a paper that soon will be published in the Journal of Legal Education (which is based, of couse, at Southwestern) that a bromide from another business (real estate) explains a lot. It’s location, location, location. Law students may wish to pick their law schools based, among other reasons, on which city in which they hope to practice. Though a Harvard law degree carries a certain cred across the country, it’s a well-trod but often-ignored reality that Big Law firms tend to hire law students for their ultimate partner track from certain law schools in their own area. In the Entertainment Capital of the World, aka Los Angeles, this means it’s good for partner purposes to be a Bruin (No. 1) or from Loyola (No. 2), though Southwestern hits the No. 8 spot for partners among Los Angeles 100 largest firms or No. 7 if schools get ranked by the number of their partners in the metropolis’ 250 largest firms.
[Full disclosure: the author of this post knew casually at one point a Los Angeles lawyer involved in the Bratz case.]