MinterEllison’s Meltdown Ticks Every Box

In reading the recent story of Australian law firm MinterEllison’s meltdown over the infamous “apology” email from its managing partner, Annette Kimmitt, we were struck by how the incident serves as an object lesson on almost every significant issue in law firm management. Grappling with the ethics (and PR fallout) of representing controversial clients? Check. Angst over non-lawyers holding C-suite positions? Check. Eye-rolling Boomers looking askance at next-gen lawyers’ focus on values and accommodation? Check.

To some, Kimmit broke a cardinal rule of lawyerly discretion by apologizing, in writing, in an email to staff, for the firm’s choice to represent a client accused of rape decades ago, noting that it had caused “pain” to some employees of the firm, who felt that the firm’s choice to represent him went against its values. Detractors immediately zeroed in on the fact that Kimmit is not a lawyer. Her email slip (as they see it) happened because she doesn’t “get it” when it comes to the client loyalty and discretion required of lawyers. 

To others, the apology, and acknowledgment that the matter had not gone through the firm’s typical due consultation and approval process, was a welcome break with a tradition that has served to protect the status quo and silence its detractors. Clients come first; employees of the firm, especially women, come dead last. That approach is unsustainable in a modern firm.

These are complex questions, and it’s possible that in this case Kimmit’s email was heartfelt and necessary but also improper. Whatever her firm decides to do in response, the story creates an opportunity for all firm leaders to think more deeply on these questions and prepare a plan of action should a similar situation arise. 

In fact, this discussion is already underway over on De Novo, Page 2’s new subscription-based publication offering curated news briefs and analysis of the most important issues law leaders face. 

In the January issue, Deb took a deep dive into representing controversial clients in “The End of Non-Accountability?” In a cultural moment that shows little tolerance for neutral players beholden only to the interests of their clients, law leaders face uncomfortable conflicts and big decisions about what it means to be a moral actor in 2020. Here’s how to face them head-on.

In March’s “Status Addiction,” Deb will examine the cost of status management, including how it keeps so many law firm leaders from tapping the wisdom of non-lawyer experts — and making use of their expertise in running a modern firm.

Let us know what you think.



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