You, the trial lawyer, tell Jimmy, your client's outside auditor, many of your Deep Thoughts about how to handle a thorny federal income tax issue that will likely produce a lawsuit with the Internal Revenue Service.

Jimmy records his own Deep Thoughts in a memo to the file.  He includes yours also.

You didn't tell Jimmy to write the memo or to include your Deep Thoughts in it.  He didn't say he'd reduce your strategery to writing, and neither did he promise to keep your Deep Thoughts a secret.  And of course you and your client have never seen the memo and, really, have no use for it, in litigation or otherwise.

Does the work product doctrine shield Jimmy's memo from the IRS, which has now sued your client over the very issue you gave your Deep Thoughts about?

The D.C. Circuit said yesterday it likely does.  

In United States v. Deloitte LLP, No. 09-5171, slip op. at 3 (D.C. Cir. June 29, 2010), the panel rejected the IRS's effort to lay hands on "a 1993 draft memorandum prepared by Deloitte that summarizes a meeting between Dow [Chemical] employees, Dow's outside counsel, and Deloitte employees about the possibility of litigation over [tax treatment of a partnership], and the necessity of accounting for such a possibility in an ongoing audit."  

The IRS subpoenaed Deloitte, which moved for protection on the ground that the work product doctrine made the memo off-limits.  Dow intervened to support the Deloitte position.  The district court granted protection without looking at the memo in camera.  The IRS pressed an appeal.  The D.C. Circuit affirmed.

The thinking behind the ruling doesn't persuade Blawgletter.  Yes, the court said, the Rule 26(b)(3) limits on whose labor can create protectable work product — the party's lawyers and its representatives — exclude an auditor.   But Hickman v. Taylor, 329 U.S. 495 (1947), per the panel, goes beyond the rule and moots the question of "who created the document or how they are related to the party asserting work-product protection".  Hickman, the panel ruled, asks only "whether the document contains work product — the thoughts and opinions of counsel developed in anticipation of litigation."  Id. at 8-9.

The court also said axed the idea that the main purpose of the memo — to do work necessary for the audit — negated work product status.  "In short, a document can contain protected work-product material even though it serves multiple purposes, so long as the protected material was prepared because of the prospect of litigation."  Id. at 13.

The decision seems to mean that only your reasons for creating the work product matter.  You, the trial lawyer, can blab to third parties — including ones who owe no duty of confidentiality — about your Deep Thoughts.  You can do the blabbing solely for a reason other than helping prepare for trial.  

That seems so wrong to us.

We'd guess that Dow's outside counsel met with Deloitte mainly to deal with whether Dow needed to set up a reserve — and take a hit to income — due to a reasonably probable and estimatable loss in the IRS lawsuit under Financial Accounting Standards Board's Statement No. 5, Accounting for Contingencies.  Why does that meeting deserve more protection than, say, a chat with Dow's biggest shareholders?  Stock analysts?  Fox News?

The ruling fits with a trend of increasing the ability to disclose publicly what counsel thinks and says privately without waiving privilege.  See, e.g., Fed. R. Evid. 502(d) (allowing federal court to limit waiver in proceedings in other state and federal courts).

While we empathize with our corporate brethren and sisteren on their desire for broad work product protection, we wonder whether the societal benefits outweigh the costs.  Or, more accurately, we doubt that they do.

Print:
Email this postShare this post on LinkedIn
Photo of Barry Barnett Barry Barnett

Clients and colleagues call Barry Barnett an “incredibly gifted lawyer” (Chambers and Partners) who is “magic in the courtroom” (Who’s Who Legal), “the top antitrust lawyer in Texas” (Chambers and Partners), and “a person of unquestioned integrity” (David J. Beck, founder of Beck…

Clients and colleagues call Barry Barnett an “incredibly gifted lawyer” (Chambers and Partners) who is “magic in the courtroom” (Who’s Who Legal), “the top antitrust lawyer in Texas” (Chambers and Partners), and “a person of unquestioned integrity” (David J. Beck, founder of Beck Redden).

Barnett is a Fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers, and Lawdragon has named him one of the top 500 lawyers in the United States three years in a row. Best Lawyers in America has honored him as “Lawyer of the Year” for Bet-the-Company Litigation (2019 and 2017) and Patent Litigation (2020) in Houston. Based in Texas and New York, Barnett has tried complex business disputes across the United States.

TRIAL COUNSEL
Barnett’s background, training, and experience make him indispensable to his clients. The small-town son of a Texas roughneck and grandson of a Texas sharecropper, Barnett “developed an unusual common sense about people, their motivations, and their dilemmas,” according to former client Michael Lewis.

Barnett has been historically recognized for his effectiveness and judgment. His peers chose him, for example, to the American College of Trial Lawyers and American Law Institute. His decades of trial and appellate work representing both plaintiffs and defendants have made him a master strategist and nimble tactician in complex disputes.

Barnett focuses on enforcement of antitrust laws, the “Magna Carta of free enterprise,” in Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall’s memorable phrase. “Barry is one of the nation’s outstanding antitrust lawyers,” according to Joseph Goldberg, a member of the Private Antitrust Enforcement Hall of Fame. Named among Texas’s top ten antitrust lawyers of 2023, Business Today calls Barnett a “trailblazer” among the “distinguished legal minds” who “dedicate their skill and expertise to the maintenance of healthy competition in various sectors” of the Lone Star State’s booming economy. Barnett is also adept in energy and intellectual property matters and has battled for clients against a Who’s Who list of corporate behemoths, including Abbott Labs, Alcoa, Apple, AT&T, BlackBerry, Broadcom, Comcast, Dow, JPMorgan Chase, Samsung, and Visa.

Barnett commands a courtroom with calm and credibility and “is the perfect lawyer for bet the company litigation,” said Scott Regan, General Counsel of former client Whiting Petroleum. His performance before the Supreme Court in Comcast Corp. v. Behrend prompted the Court to withdraw the question on which it had granted review. The judge in a trial involving mobile phone technology called Barnett “one of the best” and that his opening statement the finest he had ever seen. Another trial judge told Barnett minutes after a jury returned a favorable verdict against the county’s biggest employer that he was one of the two best trial lawyers he’d ever come across—adding that the other one was dead.

COMPLETE PACKAGE
A versatile trial lawyer, Barnett knows how to handle a case all the way from strategic pre-suit planning to affirmance on appeal. He’s tried cases to verdict and then briefed and argued them when they went before appellate courts, including the Second, Third, Fifth, and Tenth Circuits, the Supreme Court of Louisiana, and (in the case of Comcast Corp. v. Behrend) the Supreme Court of the United States.

Barnett is a sought-after public speaker, often serving on panels and talking about topics like the trials of antitrust class actions and techniques for streamlining complex litigation. He also comments on trends in commercial litigation and the implications of major rulings for outlets such as NPR, Reuters, Law360, Corporate Counsel, and The Dallas Morning News. He’s even appeared in a Frontline program about underfunding of state pensions, authored chapters on “Fee Arrangements” and “Techniques for Expediting and Streamlining Litigation” (the latter with Steve Susman) in the ABA’s definitive treatise on Business and Commercial Litigation in Federal Courts, 5th, and commented on How Antitrust Enforcers Might Think Like Plaintiffs’ Lawyers.

HARD GRADERS
Clients and other hard graders have praised Barnett for his courtroom skills and legal acumen.

A client in a $100 million oil and gas case, which Barnett’s team won at trial and held on appeal, said Barnett and his team “presented a rare combination of strong legal intellect, common sense about right and wrong, and credibility in the courtroom.” David McCombs at Haynes and Boone said Barnett “has a natural presence that goes over well with juries and judges.”

Even former adversaries give Barnett high marks. Lead opposing counsel in a decade-long antitrust slugfest said “Barry is a highly skilled advocate. He understands what really matters in telling a narrative and does so in a very compelling manner.”

CIVIC ENGAGEMENT
Barnett relishes opportunities to collaborate with all kinds of people. At the Center for American and International Law (CAIL), founded by a former prosecutor at Nuremberg in 1947 and headquartered in the Dallas area, he has served on the Executive Committee, co-chaired the committee that produced CAIL’s first-ever strategic plan, supported CAIL’s Institute for Law Enforcement Administration and other development efforts, and proposed formation of a new Institute for Social Justice Law. CAIL’s former President David Beck said “Barry is extremely bright” and is “very well prepared in every lawsuit or professional task he undertakes.”

Barnett is also a Trustee of the New-York Historical Society, a Sterling Fellow at Yale, a member of the Yale University Art Gallery’s Governing Board, a winner of the Class Award for his work on behalf of his college class, and a proud contributor to the Yellow Ribbon Program at Harvard Law. Barnett’s pro bono work includes leading the trial team representing people who are at greatest risk of severe illness and death as a result of being exposed to the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 while being detained in the Dallas County jail—work for which he received the NGAN Legal Advocacy Fund RBG Award.

At Susman Godfrey, Barnett has served on the firm’s Executive Committee, Employment Committee, and ad hoc committees on partner compensation, succession of leadership, and revision of the firm’s partnership agreement. He also twice chaired the Practice Development Committee.

KEEPING PERSPECTIVE
Barnett understands that clients face many pressures. Managing the stress is important, especially in matters that take years to resolve. He encourages clients to call him whenever they have a question or concern and to keep the inevitable ups and downs in perspective. He wants them to know that he will do his level best to help them achieve their goals. He also strives to foster trust and to make working with him a pleasure.

Cyrus “Skip” Marter, the General Counsel of Bonanza Creek in Denver and a former Susman Godfrey partner and client, said Barnett is “excellent about communicating with clients in a full and honest manner” and can “negotiate for his clients from a position of strength, because he is not afraid to take a case through a full trial on the merits.” Stacey Doré, the President of Hunt Utility Services and a former client, said that Barnett is “an excellent trial lawyer and the person you want to hire for your bet-the-company cases. He is client focused, responsive, and uniquely savvy about trial and settlement strategy.” A New York colleague said, “Barry is a joy to work with as co-counsel. He tackles complex procedural and factual hurdles capably, efficiently, and without drama.”

PERSONAL
Barnett’s wide-ranging experience and calm, down-to-earth approach enable him to connect with clients, judges, jurors, witnesses, and even opposing counsel. He grew up in Nacogdoches, Texas. He co-captained his high school varsity football team as an All-East Texas middle linebacker while also serving as the Editor of Key Club’s Texas-Oklahoma District, won the Best Typist award, took the History Team to glory, and sang in the East Texas All Region Choir. As Dan Kelly of client Vistra Corp. put it, Barnett is “a great person to be around.”

Barnett is steady and loyal. He has practiced at Susman Godfrey his entire career. He and his wife Nancy live in Dallas and enjoy spending time in Houston and New York. Their daughter works for H-E-B in Houston, and their son is a Haynes and Boone transactions lawyer in Dallas.

As a member of Ivy League championship football teams in his junior and senior years at Yale and a parent of two Yalies, Barnett has no trouble choosing sides for “The Game” in November. And he knows how important fighting all the way to the end is. On his last play from scrimmage, in the waning minutes of The Game on Nov. 22, 1980, he recovered a Crimson fumble.

Yale won, 14-0.