The Volokh Conspiracy

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The Outrage Machine Claims a Victim: A Play in Seven Acts

|The Volokh Conspiracy |


Act I: Shook, Hardy, and Bacon attorney Paul Reid (who I don't know and have no prior connection with) represents a severely injured plaintiff seeking compensation for his injury. As tends to happen in civil litigation, the case drags on.

Act II: Opposing law firm asks for a continuance, which would further delay trial, in part based on the lead defense attorney's pregnancy and subsequent maternity leave plans.

Act III: Reid files a rather mundane motion opposing the continuance, stressing the harm to his client of further delay. With regard to the pregnancy, he suggests that the trial could be held sufficiently early that it would not interfere with the opposing attorney's maternity leave. (He suggested August, opposing counsel is due in October.) Alternatively, he suggests that one of the other senior attorneys on the case could stand in. He explicitly states that he has no desire to interfere with opposing counsel's maternity leave, but that the relevant legal standard requires the court to consider his client's dire situation.

Act IV: In June, the attorneys argue the motion in front of the trial judge. Apropos of nothing in particular, the judge states, "I don't believe Ms. Luikart got pregnant in response to this case." I can't find anything in the motion or transcript in which Reid suggested or implied that she did. The judge grants a continuance.

Act V: For unclear reasons, the situation suddenly gets publicity this week. Reid is unfairly portrayed as suggesting that opposing counsel intentionally got pregnant to delay the trial.

Act VI: Staci Zaretsky of Above the Law publishes an outraged blog post on the situation, with the following headline and subheadline: Biglaw Partner Accuses Small-Firm Litigator Of Getting Pregnant To Delay Trial: No, a woman would not carry a pregnancy to term and bring a child into this world in a sick effort to delay a case. (The headline was later modified slightly to Biglaw Partner Accuses Small-Firm Litigator Of Using Pregnancy To Delay Trial.) Zaretsky claims, without providing any quotes from either the motion or the transcript (because there aren't any?), that Reid "alluded to the fact that she may have gotten pregnant in an attempt to further delay the proceedings." Zaretsky's post is widely shared on social media.

Act VII: Shook, Hardy throws Reid under the bus (see the update to Zaretsky's post), criticizing his handling of the case, suspending him from the firm pending further investigation, and even removing him from the firm's website.

Now I have three children, and my wife worked through all three pregnancies and had bosses who exhibited varying degrees of flexibilty regarding maternity issues, so I understand why this whole issue hit a nerve. If Reid had acted the way Zaretsky and others have portrayed him as acting, the outrage would be understandable. But I can't square the text of the motion and transcript with that portrayal. And lost in all the outrage is the fact that Reid had a duty to zealously advocate on behalf of his client's interests. ATL has become something of a legally-oriented version of Gawker, so I can't say I expect better. But I would hesitate to recommend to law students that they consider working at Shook, Hardy, if this is how the firm treats an attorney caught up in a click-bait-driven outrage cycle.

UPDATE: It was opposing counsel, speaking sarcastically, who first brought up the issue of whether she got pregnant to delay the trial. Reid noted that defendants had already delayed the trial several times. Opposing counsel responded: "The client chose me. I have a history of working with the client. I'm vice chair of the diversity committee. And that objection is not respectful in any way, shape or form. I'm not trying to delay anything. I did not get pregnant in response to his motion to strike." I can't say I understand what her being vice-chair of the diversity committee has to do with the price of tea in China.