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Law Firm Website Design Companies : The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

A law firm's bitter breakup laid bare

  Legal Business  -   POSTED: 2008/03/05 09:45

They call him "psychologically abusive." He insists their "venomous attacks" and "reckless hyperbole" are motivated by greed and personal vendettas.

They say they were appalled by his "fiscal and executive mismanagement" and "reckless and wasteful spending." He dismisses their accusations as "baseless and defamatory."

It's the kind of overheated language that often has aggrieved parties hiring lawyers. But in this case, lawyers themselves are making the angry allegations. And their dispute is detailed in a tell-all lawsuit that lays bare an ugly business divorce, the kind usually settled behind closed doors.

The case, which goes to arbitration this month, involves the acrimonious breakup of the founders of Donovan Hatem, a 50-lawyer Boston law firm. Nine former partners have sued the firm and founder David J. Hatem, whom they describe as jealous, tyrannical, and dictatorial, claiming they are owed a collective $2 million in unpaid compensation.

The lawyers, who left the firm last summer to open a new Boston firm, LeClairRyan, accuse Hatem of manipulating the firm's finances to prevent them from be ing fairly paid. They also allege he wrote off bills for favored clients, spent lavishly on marketing to promote mainly himself, and wasted money on first-class travel that he billed to the firm rather than to his clients.

In legal filings, Hatem has lashed back, arguing that his former partners are trying to humiliate and destroy a firm with which they now compete. He accuses one of them of billing Donovan Hatem for New England Patriots season tickets that went to clients of their new firm, and says the incompetent legal work of two others resulted in a pending malpractice allegation that could cost Donovan Hatem $50,000.

"This is all very much about Mr. Hatem not wanting to pay his partners," said Warren D. Hutchison, a plaintiff in the lawsuit who had worked with Hatem for nearly 20 years. "He really considers nobody of any value other than himself, and he was incapable of recognizing the worth in his former partners."

Hatem's lawyer, Michael E. Mone, did not return a call. But in legal documents, Mone asserts the plaintiffs sued "to embarrass and harm their former partners, particularly Mr. Hatem," and calls their case "an outrageous and salacious effort to leverage a quick payment of money to which they are not entitled."

A call to Hatem was returned by Andrew M. Paven of O'Neill and Associates, a Boston public relations firm. In a statement provided by Paven, the firm described the suit as "baseless and defamatory."

Donovan Hatem was established in 2001 by John A. Donovan Jr., who died of cancer in 2005, and Hatem, who specializes in representing architects, engineers, construction firms, and the companies that insure them. Both men left the Boston firm Burns & Levinson to launch their practice, taking 38 other Burns & Levinson lawyers - a third of the firm - with them.



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