It appears law firm financials are heading in a positive direction. The Thomson Reuters Institute's Law Firm Financial Index rose 14 points in the first quarter of 2023, marking the first increase since Q2 2021. The index found that billing rate growth remained healthy, up almost 6% over the past year, and law firm direct expenses grew more slowly in Q1. Practices such as litigation and labor and employment saw increased demand in Q1 compared with the previous quarter. However, the index also noted a decline in profits-per-lawyer and lawyer productivity over the past 12 months. The report found a divergence between the largest and midsize law firms, with midsize firms seeing an increase in demand and headcount growth but also an increase in direct expenses. In contrast, Am Law 100 firms saw direct expense growth kept to less than 5% but experienced a decline in demand for their services.
Peter J. Schwartz, a Pennsylvania man, has been sentenced to 14 years in prison for assaulting police officers with pepper spray outside the U.S. Capitol during the January 6 riot. Schwartz, who was convicted last December, was found to have been at the forefront of the mob that attacked police at the lower west terrace of the Capitol. He boasted later that he had "started a riot" by "throwing the first chair". Prosecutors said Schwartz seized a police duffle bag full of pepper-spray canisters and handed them out to others in the mob, including his wife, so they could turn them against police officers. Schwartz was found guilty on four counts of assault with a dangerous weapon and six other charges, including obstructing an official proceeding and entering a restricted building with a dangerous weapon. His 170-month prison term surpasses the previous longest sentence yet handed down in a case related to the Jan. 6 attack. At least 950 people have been charged and more than 600 convicted for their roles in the Capitol rampage.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has signed a bill that grants a new board he controls the authority to void development agreements its predecessor signed with Walt Disney. The bill passed the Republican-controlled legislature largely along party lines. The Central Tourism Oversight District Board, whose members are appointed by DeSantis, can cancel any deals signed up to three months before the board's creation. The move comes after Disney and DeSantis have been in a feud since last year when Disney criticised a new state law banning classroom instruction of sexuality and gender identity with younger children. I anticipate this will be a topic of discussion on Esquiring Minds later this week, so don’t forget to jump over to there if you’re interested in hearing an actual expert, Jacob Schumer, discuss the latest news on the Disney–DeSantis brouhaha.
The governance arm of the federal judiciary is being called upon to investigate Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas again following recent reports on his undisclosed financial ties to Texas billionaire Harlan Crow. The move has brought the judiciary’s process for enforcing financial reporting rules under scrutiny, with long-running concerns that it is inadequate for such matters. A red flag had previously been raised about the handling of public allegations of wrongdoing against Thomas over a decade ago, sparking internal process changes. US District Judge Mark Wolf raised concerns in 2012 that the Judicial Conference of the United States was being kept in the dark and shut out from reviewing complaints against Thomas. Wolf’s objections led to changes in the process that should now formally notify the conference of complaints against Thomas and how they’re handled. This latest controversy, like the one in 2011, has caused a national debate about how the judiciary enforces ethics rules and the Supreme Court’s lack of a binding code of conduct.
The US Justice Department has reached a settlement on antitrust concerns surrounding Swedish lockmaker Assa Abloy's $4.3bn purchase of Spectrum Brands' Hardware and Home Improvement unit, allowing the deal to proceed. The Justice Department had sued to block the acquisition in September 2022, arguing that it would limit competition in the residential door hardware industry and raise prices. The settlement requires Assa Abloy to divest some of its brands to Fortune Brands Innovations, which will acquire Emtek, Schaub, Yale and August brands from Assa Abloy. The deal still needs to be approved by a judge. Spectrum Brands' CEO David Maura said the agreement was a "critical milestone toward putting HHI [Spectrum's hardware unit] in the hands of Assa Abloy".
A National Labor Relations Board judge has ruled that Starbucks Corp. broke US labor laws when it fired five union activists who appeared in a news report filmed inside a closed store in Memphis, Tennessee. Starbucks terminated the workers in February 2022, alleging that their meeting with the news crew had taken place without the company's approval. But prosecutors alleged that the firings had been motivated by retaliation against workers' attempts to form a union. The judge also found that the coffee giant had committed other unfair labor practices in the Memphis store, including the temporary closure of the site to frustrate a union demonstration. However, the judge found that the termination of two of the workers was lawful. The company said that it was evaluating the decision. Exceptions must be filed by June 1.