How a Kirkland Partner Relied on 2 Lean Teams During Simultaneous Weeklong Arbitrations

In this article for The Am Law Litigation Daily, partner Josh Greenblatt describes his recent work on two simultaneous arbitration hearings across the country for clients Social + Capital and Pegasus Capital Advisors. The Social + Capital team included partners Mary Reale and Michael Shipley and associate Mason Reynolds. The Pegasus Capital Advisors team included partners Jeffrey Goldfine, John Del Monaco and Stephanie Shimada.

It’s an archetypal story in Big Law lore: The deal lawyer works to close two simultaneous deals furiously shuttling back and forth from conference room to conference room to hammer out the final details.

Well, this story takes that archetype, gives it a litigation twist and one-ups it.

This year during the first full week of June, Kirkland & Ellis partner Josh Greenblatt headed up trial teams for two clients—Silicon Valley venture capital fund Social + Capital and a portfolio company of private equity fund Pegasus Capital Advisors—that had simultaneous weeklong arbitration hearings.

Here’s where we one-up our archetypal deal lawyer. These arbitration hearings weren’t down the hall from one another, but splayed completely across the country in Silicon Valley and Delaware.

“We strive to bring 100% focus to our clients on any given matter throughout the lifecycle of the matter,” Greenblatt told me when we discussed the matters this week. ”This one was really a good test of that intent.”

I connected with Greenblatt and a couple of the junior partners he leaned on the cases—Mary Reale who was part of the Social + Capital case and Jeffrey Goldfine who worked on the matter for the Pegasus portfolio company—to try to get a better feel for what went into trying cases simultaneously on either coast.

Yes, there was some time in the air for Greenblatt. In the run-up to the two trial dates, he was in the Bay Area where Social + Capital faced claims from two of its founders and a former partner alleging their carried interest had been improperly diluted. But with Reale slated to handle cross-examination of the three plaintiffs in the case on the first day of trial, Greenblatt flew across the country for the opening two days of the case for the Pegasus portfolio company. (That dispute saw Kirkland on the plaintiff-side against the client’s Chinese joint venture partner, but the defendant was also seeking counterclaims to dissolve the joint venture.)  

With both trials up-and-running, Greenblatt flew back to the Bay Area the night before Social + Capital’s principal was set to testify. Greenblatt had advised the client throughout the dispute and defended his deposition and wanted to be there in-person for this key moment. After that testimony though, Greenblatt hopped a redeye flight back to the East Coast for the last day-and-a-half of trial in Delaware.

Greenblatt said that when he wasn’t in the hearing room focused on what was going on in one case, he was usually outside getting up to speed on what was going on across the country in the other. “I don’t know that I could have kept it up for more than a week, but I managed to basically stay up to speed in real-time or near real-time on both matters,” he said.

“Obviously, I want to be there for everything physically,” Greenblatt said. “But I knew that we were sort of all extensions of one another on these trial teams.” He said that keeping both teams lean created an environment where everyone down to the most junior associate knew the entire case and was ready to contribute as needed.

In Silicon Valley, partner Mike Shipley led direct and cross of the experts, associate Mason Reynolds handled her first witness, and Reale, still an associate at the time of the trial, handled the cross of the three plaintiffs. Reale said that Shipley and Greenblatt were both mentors and on the case from day one. “In preparing, I was able to run ideas for these crosses by both Josh and Mike. So we were all very much in sync on what our goals for these cross-examinations were,” she said.

In Delaware, Goldfine led direct and cross of experts, partner John Del Monaco led the direct examination of the client’s principal fact witnesses, and partner Stephanie Shimada took her first witness. “By the end of the case, everyone on the team from Joshua on down had a really strong grasp of what our trial strategy was going to be,” said Goldfine of the Delaware team. “We had huge contributions from everyone.”

Even after the whirlwind week, Greenblatt and the teams didn’t really get to rest. “Unfortunately, in arbitrations, it’s not like you’re done and then you wait for the verdict and you go home,” he said. “We immediately caught our breath, relaxed for a little bit and then pivoted to the briefing to make sure we delivered the results.”

In late August, the team got word from the JAMS panel in the Social + Capital case that they’d sided with the fund on all counts. The team on the matter for the Pegasus portfolio company got word in October that they had won a significant monetary award. They also successfully fought off the effort to dissolve the joint venture and won an injunction barring the defendant partner from inappropriately competing with the joint venture.

Greenblatt described a virtuous cycle of allowing people to demonstrate that they can handle what’s thrown at them getting even more opportunities. “I believe as a partner or more senior person within a firm, you can do nothing better than empowering more junior folks,” Greenblatt said. “When you identify people who have the skills and the drive to actually make something of those opportunities, that’s not only good for them, but it’s good for everybody,” he said.

“I think one of the most unconstructive things that people can do is pigeonhole junior folks too much early on and not give them the opportunity to grow,” he said. “It really limits everybody down the road, including more senior members of the team who otherwise would have the benefit of their skills and their abilities like I did here.”

Reprinted with permission from the December 6, 2023 edition of the AMLAW LITIGATION DAILY © 2023 ALM Global Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is  prohibited.