Before I reach the exciting conclusion of my series on Baron Rothschild, I want to mention just two of the many bizarre events that occurred in connection with Imetal’s attempted takeover of Copperweld Corporation.

Most of those strange events arose out of a very awkward combination of two things. First, the Imetal matter was the highest profile corporate takeover in the world at the time. Meanwhile, I was one of the most inexperienced lawyers in the world. A bad combination, though fortunately one that’s easy to laugh at a few decades later.

Let’s take a look at The Case of the Missing Briefs.

One day I’d just returned from a long morning arguing in “motions court.” Motions court was a catchall courtroom in which legal motions of all sorts were heard. Suppose you’d subpoenaed the plaintiff to appear for a deposition and aforesaid plaintiff was dragging his feet. You could go to motions court to compel his attendance.

It was all a bit silly – the judge hearing the motion wasn’t the judge handling your case, so the outcome of the motion could be wildly random. Still, it was good experience for young lawyers to have to stand up in court and argue their cases against the opposing lawyers, and to do it in front of dozens of other lawyers who were also in court to argue motions.

I’d finally finished my argument and had returned to Reed Smith’s impossibly gorgeous Flemish Gothic headquarters building. I’d entered the firm’s imposing, if slightly threadbare, lobby, the one that still contained the horsehair customer benches that had been installed during the Great Depression.

Glancing up, I was astonished to observe a very senior secretary barreling toward me, looking more like a 230-pound fullback than a lady who was barely five feet high. She was shouting, “You! You there!”

It was too late for me to make a break for it, and soon she was shoving several legal briefs under my nose.

Before I proceed, I should point out that senior secretaries were even more terrifying for young lawyers than senior partners. For one thing, these Dragon Ladies had lifetime tenure. If a senior partner got annoyed with his secretary he could fire her. But that only fired her as his secretary. She would simply walk across the hall and become the secretary to some other partner.

In fact, when there was a breakup between a senior partner and a senior secretary, it was often very unclear whether he’d fired her or she’d fired him.

In any event, here was what was going on. As everyone well knew, Reed Smith was, at that very moment, in court arguing for an injunction against the Imetal takeover. It was probably the most important court hearing going on anywhere in the world that day.

To prepare for such a momentous event, law firms will brief every conceivable issue that could possibly come up. They will write down their arguments and cite all the cases that support them, and would also distinguish all the cases that were against them. (That is, grunts like me would write these briefs.) Then, when the lawyers were in front of the judge, they could refer to these briefs and sound intelligent. The word “briefcase,” by the way, was originally “briefs case.”

But when Mr. F and his entourage had left for the courthouse that day, two briefs had inadvertently been left on a secretary’s desk. The loss had eventually been noticed and a panicky call had been received from the courthouse instructing the secretary to get those briefs over to the court ASAP.

The secretary had apparently been about to run them over herself, but suddenly, there I was. “You’re on the Copperweld-Imetal team, isn’t that right, young man? Well, get these briefs over to the courthouse right this minute!”

I’d just come from the courthouse, and so, rattled as I was by my encounter with this Dragon Lady, I turned on my heels and rushed back to where I’d been. At the courthouse, I ignored the (agonizingly slow) elevators and raced up the stairs to the second floor.

But which courtroom was Mr. F arguing in? I headed for the chief judge’s chambers to ask for the right room, and had just rounded the corner near his chambers when I suddenly stopped dead. My blood had turned to ice and my skin was on fire.

I don’t know how long I stood there, completely immobile, but long enough so that passersby must have assumed I was a newly-installed statue. Then, slowly, my hand went up to my face and covered my eyes, as though if I couldn’t see what was happening, it couldn’t be happening.

I’d automatically returned to the Allegheny County Courthouse, where motions court had been held. But that courthouse was where legal matters in Allegheny County, the city of Pittsburgh, and the state of Pennsylvania were heard. The Imetal injunction was being argued in federal court.

The federal courtrooms were inside the Federal Building, which was a l-o-n-g way from where I was. Eventually, I stopped being a statue and raced back down the stairs and out onto the sidewalk and ran down Grant Street as fast as I could go, scattering startled pedestrians every which way.

Eventually, badly out of breath, I approached the Federal Building, but I was on the wrong side of the four-lane street. I was frantically looking for a break in the traffic so I could jaywalk across when, to my horror, the front door of the building opened and Mr. F and his entourage swept out.

The injunction hearing was over, and I was a dollar short and a day late.

Next up: Baron Rothschild and Me, Part 5

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