By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
But that was nothing compared to Hirsch’s own contention on the stand that any of his clients is free to leave without any obligation to pay him fees on deals concluded while he represented them. Suffice to say that the lawyers on the other side were amused by this notion.
So far, none of the celebs who have testified have dropped any bombs. Penn testified that he was offered a chance to change his fee arrangement from 5 percent of every deal to by the hour if he followed Hirsch to the new firm. Coppola said he hadn’t even known that Hirsch was changing firms, just his office address. And Donner admitted he had little notion about his financial arrangements with Hirsch since his business manager handled that part of his career.
IT’S NOT OFTEN THAT entertainment attorneys start jabbing their stingers at one another, much less inside the same law practice. Heck, the whole point of their chummy world is to keep the Hollywood machinery humming so everyone makes gobs of money and buys in Malibu. But that changed when Barry Hirsch, infamous for giving Hollywood many Maalox moments, created a hornet’s nest by quietly cleaning out his office on a Saturday, stealthily spiriting away his clients on a Sunday, and then publicly portraying his partners as backstabbing weasels guilty of ageism on a Monday. (See “Hirsch’s Hornet’s Nest”: www.laweekly.com/general/deadline-hollywood/hirschs-hornets-nest/9057.)
At the core of Hirsch’s original lawsuit is whether he jumped or was pushed out of his old firm by a forced LLP conversion. But Hirsch’s ex-partners accused the éminence grise of entertainment lawyers of more subterfuge than you’d find in a Bond flick — including nocturnal escapades, secret software, deleted e-mails, clients on the side, diverted fees and other purported violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
According to the cross-complaint filed by Hirsch’s former firm, Hirsch and his gang “installed unauthorized software on the Firm’s computer system,” then they “used the unauthorized software to download confidential documents and proprietary data of the Firm.” They then “also deleted e-mails and electronic documents from the Firm’s computer system in an attempt to cover their tracks and to deny the use of this information to the Firm.” Then “while still employed at the Firm, [they] secretly represented clients on the side, preparing to divert and squirrel away for themselves fees that properly belonged to the Firm. The Hirsch parties undertook these side representations without appropriate disclosure to the Firm of the existence of such clients or their matters and without complying with the Firm’s procedures with respect to new clients and new matters.”
That things had to get this extreme is kinda mind-boggling, especially considering Hirsch is a legal top gun who’s also a licensed marriage, family and child counselor. When he wasn’t presiding over the serial wedding ceremonies of clients Julia Roberts and J.Lo, he spent years treating celebrity and civilian patients and conducting group-therapy sessions. In fact, the old firm accused Hirsch of misusing his extensive psychotherapy training to browbeat, beg and badger clients into joining his new firm.
Now more than ever, it may be hard for Hirsch to portray himself as a victim in court. His new firm is flourishing (and so is his old firm). And he has a history of treating his partners like bugs under his shoe, going back to the start of his legal career.
The product of a Westside middle-class family, Hirsch graduated from USC Law School in 1957 and went to work for an old-line entertainment firm before a merger formed Schiff Hirsch and Schreiber. As his reputation grew, so did Hirsch’s arrogance. There was an infamous Schiff partners’ meeting where, to everyone’s horror, Hirsch went around the table and, one by one, rated each attorney’s usefulness to the firm: “You are a two, you are a six, you are a one,” he said to the lawyers, analyzing them professionally and psychologically.
When an internal dispute broke out at Schiff over partnership shares and merger attempts, Hirsch felt he deserved more money than everyone else. On Friday afternoon, April 25, 1980, the firm’s senior partner, Gunther Schiff, received a phone call from a reporter asking, “Do you have any comments about Barry Hirsch breaking off from your firm?” Schiff was caught flat-footed. Hirsch denied any trouble.
A week later, Hirsch left the firm after 15 years, and Schiff was furious.
Hirsch immediately joined Gary Hendler’s law firm, which became Armstrong Hendler & Hirsch, taking with him his entire client list and two Schiff partners. Hirsch was eager to run Hendler’s law firm by himself. After Hendler was handed a studio job, Armstrong Hendler & Hirsch became Armstrong Hirsch. Ousted from the studio after just two years, Hendler asked Hirsch to let him return to the law firm. Hirsch said no.
Now, he’s embroiled in his third dispute. Hirsch could have taken the comfortable, moneyed path into retirement. After all, he owns a place in Hawaii and has become an avid golfer. From the looks of this trial, his clients may wind up wishing he’d taken the easy way out.
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