Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP is a large, international law firm with over 1,500 attorneys in 34 offices across the United States, Canada, Europe, and Asia. The firm was founded in 1965 and is headquartered in Los Angeles, California.
In addition to insurance defense, It has a range of legal services such as complex litigation, including class actions, mass torts, and product liability cases. Lewis Brisbois also has a significant practice in representing businesses in a variety of industries, including healthcare, technology, and energy.
Last month John Barber, who was chair of the Lewis Brisbois’ employment practice, said at least 110 lawyers were leaving Lewis Brisbois after signing agreements to join a newly-formed spinoff firm and as many as 140 lawyers could eventually join the new firm, Barber Ranen. Barber will lead the firm along with Jeffrey Ranen, who was a national vice chair of the labor and employment practice at Lewis Brisbois.
Barber Ranen would open three physical offices in Los Angeles, Newport Beach, and San Francisco, Barber said, with other lawyers working remotely in Sacramento, Seattle, Salt Lake City, Boston, Denver, Pittsburgh, Portland, Las Vegas and Phoenix.
The Barber Ranen rationale for leaving was to “build something that’s reflective of our values and our beliefs,” Barber told Above The Law. “We wanted to lead with empathy, collaboration and compassion, to do it our way and not have any baggage,” Ranen told the Los Angeles Business Journal about the formation of Barber Ranen.
But this week Above the Law, and other media sources are reporting “Now, Barber and Ranen are making headlines once again, and this time, the news is quite alarming.”
According to the New York Post, Barber and Ranen are alleged to have engaged in racist, misogynistic, homophobic and antisemitic language about their clients and colleagues while at Lewis Brisbois, according to a review of internal emails released Monday morning.
Lewis Brisbois found the problematic emails after an audit triggered by a formal complaint about Barber and Ranen, according to two sources familiar with the matter. The firm said it is now conducting a thorough review of Barber and Ranen’s correspondence and are interviewing other employees who had interacted with the pair. “We are deeply troubled by their use of prejudiced language and racial and cultural slurs aimed at colleagues, clients, attorneys from other firms, and even Judges,” the firm’s leader said in a statement.
Barber Ranen CEO Tim Graves released a statement Monday confirming that the two men had resigned following the discovery of the emails. “The remaining Equity Partners express their disappointment and disdain for the language Mr. Barber and Mr. Ranen used. We will form a new firm. We ask for the support of our friends and colleagues while we heal and plan our path forward.”
The first release of these emails was made by Lewis Brisbois to Forward, a non-profit that claims to be “the most widely read Jewish newspaper anywhere.” Forward said that “The firm released a larger tranche of inflammatory correspondence from the attorneys targeting other groups, which was first reported on by the New York Post on Saturday.”
According to Forward, the internal emails go back to 2012. and “reveal the two cultivated a culture of bigotry and disparagement.”
Robert Glassman, a member of the board of directors at Los Angeles’ Stephen S. Wise Temple and a partner at Panish Shea Boyle Ravipudi, said he worked on dozens of cases against Lewis Brisbois and found it appalling that “this kind of hatred still permeates itself in the Los Angeles legal community.”
In a Sept. 13, 2012 email, for example, Ranen wrote to Barber, “I forgot to write that we will not hire Jews” after the latter recommended a person – his or her identity was redacted by the company – for a litigation contract. In another email earlier that year, Ramen told Derek Sachs, a former partner at Lewis Brisbois, “This is the reason why people don’t like Jews,” in response to an invoice submitted to them. In a June 2012 email thread that begins with discussing a new hire, Ranen referred to Barber as a “Jew” for owing him money.
Many of the shocking missives obtained by The Post from the pair’s former firm “were also racist or anti-LGBTQ.”
Critics ripped the two men’s behavior and the firm’s hypocrisy.
“Though they may pretend to have founded their new firm in pursuit of ‘empathy and compassion,’ it is beyond any doubt that they are incapable of doing so,” civil rights activist Al Shaprton told The Post. “I am calling on The State Bar of California to conduct a full review of their character and licenses to practice law. Though these emails alone are beyond sufficient to question Barber and Ranen’s integrity, it is easy to imagine they are just the tip of the iceberg of their intolerance toward communities of color, women and the LGBT community.”
Barber and Ranen did not return multiple messages seeking comment.
The Barber Ranen exodus followed an earlier announcement this January that Atlanta-founded labor and employment law firm Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete added 32 cybersecurity and data privacy lawyers from Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith. The law firm said it will open six new offices with the new team, which includes lawyers spread across 17 cities.
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