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Breaking the Unified Front
Carries a Price for Attorney

May 30, 2007


It isn't something you see often: a public spat between a lawyer and his firm over strategy for a suit.

That is what happened at the Los Angeles office of McGuireWoods LLP, a large, national firm. Last week the lawyer, Eliot Disner, lost his job.

[Law Blog]
Settlement objectors: Eliot Disner and plaintiff Loredana Nesci.

The tussle emerged out of an antitrust class-action lawsuit involving Bar/Bri, a unit of West Publishing Corp. and a large provider of bar-exam prep courses. McGuireWoods represents about 300,000 class members who claim that from 1998 to 2006 they overpaid for Bar/Bri services.

Earlier this month, Mr. Disner, who brought the case to the firm when he joined it through a merger in 2006, complained in a brief that McGuireWoods's proposed $49 million settlement -- tentatively approved by a federal judge -- didn't adequately compensate the class, which, he alleged, had suffered more than $400 million in damages.

He circulated the brief to other lawyers at the firm. He also sent his brief to some plaintiffs who had formally objected to the deal. Those plaintiffs then filed Mr. Disner's brief with the court.

McGuireWoods, apparently none too pleased, fired Mr. Disner. A McGuireWoods spokesman wouldn't comment on his departure beyond saying that Mr. Disner no longer worked for the firm.

Says Mr. Disner: "The firm [has] a very different view of what should be done than I do. ...It's as simple as that."

The settlement is set to be considered June 18, when Judge Manuel Real in federal court in Los Angeles is due to hold a hearing on whether to grant final approval.

And Mr. Disner? "I still plan to have a role in this case," he says, noting that he intends to appear at the hearing in the hope of representing class members who have objected to the settlement.

"You can't suppress his opinion by firing him," says Loredana Nesci, one of the objecting lead plaintiffs looking to Mr. Disner for continued representation.