Pepper Hamilton told: check client conflicts

Lawyers at US firm Pepper Hamilton have been told to run conflict checks on the firm's clients following an uproar when one client was unknowingly subpoenaed by a partner

The decision follows a strongly-worded suggestion by New York District Judge Stephen Orlofsky that the firm improve its conflicts of interest checks between offices.

The storm erupted after Pepper Hamilton's Philadelphia office subpoenaed a client from its Detroit branch to act as a witness in a litigation. That the subject of the subpoena was a client of the firm was only discovered when a Detroit-based Pepper Hamilton lawyer appeared in court with a motion to quash.

The Detroit lawyer's concern was that, by acting as a witness, the Detroit client may have revealed confidential information about the firm.

The witness in question, auto industry consultant Urban Science, had previously helped General Motors, the defendant in this case. Pepper Hamilton is representing the plaintiff. Urban Science has been represented by Pepper Hamilton for the last 14 years.

Insufficient conflict checks were made by Philadelphia partner Don Foster, representing plaintiff Steven Beilowitz, as before the case he had confirmed that no one at Pepper Hamilton was representing General Motors (the defendant) in any matter and that no conflict otherwise existed that would preclude the representation.

However, despite the shot across Pepper Hamilton's boughs by the New York district judge, the subpoena has not been quashed and the case is going ahead as planned, according to the firm's chairman Alfred Wilcox.