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Tech Legal Leaders Veer From Morgan Stanley Return-to-Work Order

The top attorneys at Adobe Inc., Dell Inc. and Qualcomm Inc. said they don’t mind where their outside attorneys work, days after Morgan Stanley’s chief legal officer told law firms to go back to office if they value Wall Street. giant company.

“I don’t feel the need to dictate to my outside law firms how to get through these tough times,” said former Qualcomm attorney Donald Rosenberg.

The memo from Eric Grossman, Morgan Stanley’s chief legal officer since 2012, puts law firm leaders in a difficult position to fine-tune remote work policies that will satisfy both their employees and corporate clients, including those faced with their own business. return to work.

Bloomberg Law reached out to more than a dozen other major tech companies to see if they would follow Morgan Stanley’s lead by telling outside attorneys to go back to the office.

Amazon.com Inc., whose general counsel is David Zapolsky, and Facebook Inc. and his general counsel, Jennifer Newstead, declined to discuss the matter. Other companies, such as parent company Alphabet Inc. of Google and Microsoft Corp., which recently reorganized its legal group structure, did not respond to requests for comment.

Steve Gilmore, a spokesperson for Dell Inc. and its general counsel, Richard Rothberg, said the Round Rock, Texas-based computer giant’s return to work approach is based on prioritizing the health and safety of its employees.

“We do not ask or require our law firms to bring their attorneys back to the office,” Gilmore said. “Our approach remains conservative, taking into account local government regulations, works councils and science, as well as our proprietary data and risk model to determine safety and readiness to reopen sites.”

Craig Corica, a spokesperson for Adobe Inc. and its general counsel Pradhan “Dana” Rao, said the San Jose, California-based software company is permanently moving to a hybrid work model focused on flexibility. Rao said in a statement that Adobe’s in-house attorneys will follow the company’s guidelines and be on duty 50% of the time.

“We think being in the office is valuable, and we’ve all learned that there are many things you can do just as or more effectively from your home office,” said Rao, a longtime Microsoft attorney who became chief legal officer in 2018. from Adobe.

‘Impressive culture’

Grossman’s memo, emailed shortly before midnight July 15 and subsequently obtained by Bloomberg Law, said the legal profession is based on an apprenticeship that “has been critical to the development of young lawyers.”

Those lawyers deliver the best results when they’re in the office together, Grossman said, adding that the bonds forged by such a culture “will fade over time because relationships aren’t maintained” in a remote setting.

Grossman’s memo received public support from Greenberg Traurig, a firm that represents Morgan Stanley.

Robert Chesnut, a former general counsel and Chief Ethics Officer at Airbnb Inc., said he understood Grossman’s desire for companionship and custody in the office, but was “stunned” by the legal chief’s insistence that his outside counsel do the same.

“I have no doubts about Morgan Stanley’s decision to bring everyone back to the office, there are many benefits to working together and I trust they are doing what they think is right for their business and culture,” Chesnut said. “But I doubt their decision to try and impose that culture on their legal partners.”

Chesnut, a former federal prosecutor who also spent ten years with eBay Inc. worked and was the legal head of technology company Chegg Inc., said he often never knew where his outside advisor worked and didn’t care.

“What should matter is whether the outside counsel is available and responsive and has the tools to do their job — and of course the quality of the work,” Chesnut said.

That sentiment was shared by Rao and Rosenberg.

“While we have not yet had discussions with our outside consultants about their work arrangements, the quality of their work is more important to us than where they do their work,” Rao said. “Our third-party law firms are our partners and we trust them to find the model that works best for them and us.”

For Rosenberg, the past year has been testament to the Qualcomm engineers who designed the communications technology that enables remote work, as well as the internal and external attorneys who helped the company achieve a major antitrust win.

“Qualcomm has done a pretty good job of getting the legal representation we need, even in the virtual world we’ve all had to adapt to,” Rosenberg said. “That’s a tribute to my in-house legal team and the excellent coverage we’ve had from the external advisor we rely on.”

‘A warning’

Grossman, himself a former Big Law partner, said he’s “rarely one to quibble about, have issues with, or even comment on how you run your businesses.”

The message’s purpose, Grossman wrote, was “motivated out of grave concern that our profession cannot long tolerate a model of remote work.” Grossman said he wanted to “raise a warning in light of what I’ve generally noted about the lack of urgency in returning attorneys to the office, and the various statements and policies I’ve seen about the ability of your attorneys (both partners and associates) to work remotely for a significant, and in some cases a majority, of their time.”

The message missed the mark with some legal industry observers, who criticized it as a hard-to-enforce mandate that ignored the realities of the modern workplace. Some law firms whose activities are not focused on financial services have already sounded a different tone.

Cooley, a major US law firm with roots in Silicon Valley, said this week it will no longer ask its lawyers to office this year. Husch Blackwell, a major company based in the Midwest, told Bloomberg Law that its virtual office “The Link” has nearly doubled in size in the past year.

Morgan Stanley and Grossman have declined to discuss the memo publicly. It came amid wider debate about return to work policies and work-life balance on Wall Street, as the major banks pushed to bring their own employees back to the office after more than a year of mostly remote work. due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Grossman said he will no longer allow “Zoom participation in critical meetings” and told outside counsel that he strongly believes that “companies that return to the office will have a significant performance advantage over those that do not.” and we will see that advantage reflected in their customer service and ability to deliver successful results for Morgan Stanley.”

Wells Fargo & Co. and Coinbase Global Inc., both of which took on new legal chiefs in Ellen Patterson and Paul Grewal last year, told Bloomberg Law they are not concerned about where their outside advisor works.

Marco Santori, a former Cooley partner who was hired last year as Chief Legal Officer for Payward Inc., owner of cryptocurrency exchange Kraken, called Morgan Stanley’s memo about returning to work “shocking to hear” and said it prompted him. wondered if Grossman’s message had been spurred on by a bad experience with an outside company.

Financial services giants like Morgan Stanley must take on a “customer activist role” as there are a limited number of large companies equipped to meet their various needs, Santori said. A large bank can shift the amount of work it distributes across a group of companies, but it rarely fires one company and replaces it with another, he said.

Lee Udelsman, head of the internal practice group at the legal recruiting and consulting firm Major, Lindsey & Africa, told Bloomberg Law that the ramifications of Grossman’s memo will likely depend on delta and other Covid-19 variants and whether more technology-oriented outfits embrace future remotes. work options.

“I think industries really do it on a case-by-case basis,” Udelsman said. “We’ll have to see what autumn brings.”

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