After twenty years at Morrison & Foerster, Raj Chatterjee is shifting gears from Big Law to boutique law.
“We want the flexibility to take on clients and cases that might not fit well within a large law firm model,” said Chatterjee, who last week announced the launch of boutique law firm Antolin, Agarwal, Chatterjee, with offices in San Francisco and Walnut Creek.
Here at Big Law Business, we like to dig into the circumstances surrounding significant partner moves, and we couldn’t help but notice that over the past five or so years, there have been a flood of prominent partners hanging up their own shingles.
Of these moves, Chatterjee’s is certainly of note. Outside of representing terrorist suspect John Walker Lindh (a.k.a. “the American Taliban”) he also defended former HP chairwoman Patricia Dunn, who was accused of spying on the media, among a number of high profile matters.
His fellow name partners include Ed Antolin — a MoFo alum who is also a former partner of Silverstein & Pomerantz, and specializes in state and local tax issues — and Monty Agarwal, a former partner and senior counsel at Arnold & Porter and former partner at Bingham McCutchen who focuses on commercial class-action and intellectual property disputes.
Big Law Business spoke with Chatterjee about his decision to start a boutique firm, what he and his partners aim to achieve, and his relationship with trial lawyer Jim Brosnahan. Below is a copy of our interview, which has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Big Law Business: What made you decide to start your own firm?
Chatterjee: I’ve been practicing since 1994 and spent nearly twenty years at MoFo. MoFo is a great firm, but I had an opportunity to start my own firm with two old friends. I’ve known Monty Agarwal since mid to late 90’s since we were both heavily involved in the South Asian Bar Association. Ed Antolin and I went to law school together and were colleagues at Mofo.
Big Law Business: What is it you want to get being part of a small firm that you couldn’t get working for a major firm and how do you find the change?
Chatterjee: We want the flexibility to take on clients and cases that might not fit well within a large law firm model, for example, individuals, start-ups, and small and large companies that need high quality and experienced counsel for matters that fit better with our flexible fee structure. We all have big firm experience. We can provide that experience and the quality of law we are used to providing along with the personal service and efficiencies that a boutique law firm can bring. As to change, change is good; change is invigorating. It will certainly be a change of environment from MoFo to a firm of three partners, but that’s part of the excitement of the new venture.
Big Law Business: Tax, IP, white collar….it sounds like you are covering all the bases?
Chatterjee: There are a lot of synergies in our practices, so we can provide services to the same client in different areas. We feel we are equals here. Each of us able to help clients in our respective areas. Commercial litigation, IP, and tax issues overlap all the time. In fact, much of my litigation over the years has been with software and technology matters where there are core contract disputes, but with IP issues lurking in the background. And the white-collar practice I have helps round that out. Each of our practices merge, so there is a lot of synergy.
Big Law Business: Are you planning to grow, in terms of lawyers, or keep it small?
Chatterjee: We’re taking it step by step, but I see us growing slowly. Our plan is to maintain a boutique focus. Our plan is not to be huge. We want to maintain our focus. Plus, we just launched last week.
Big Law Business: You’ve handled many cases and have been counsel of record in over twenty-five trials or arbitrations. Any there that you are most proud of?
Chatterjee: I’m very proud of our representation of Patricia Dunn, former chair of Hewlett Packard, representing her in front of Congress, and the criminal and civil cases that arose out of the investigation of leaks from the board of directors. We [at Mofo] got the criminal case dismissed. I’m also very proud of our representation of John Walker Lindh, or as we liked to say prisoner 001 after 9/11.
It was the first case the U.S. brought in its legal war on terror after 9/11. And as a result of our representation the government dropped all terrorism-related charges. I’m also proud of some of our bet-the-company trials, such as the Pepperball case, which was a six-week $4.8 million securities fraud jury trial in which we [MoFo] successfully defended management against all charges, saving the company.
Big Law Business: Do you think the Lindh case set a precedent for other terror-related cases?
Chatterjee: I believe the government learned much from litigating that case, which came out in the discovery they had to produce, and that informed them on other terror-related cases. This was very soon after the 9/11 attacks and the government learned a lot about what was happening in Afghanistan. They learn much about how Al-Qaeda worked and the Taliban operated and that informed the government on other cases.
I’ve also handled other cases in the same area. For example, in a pro bono matter, we represented a group of retired generals and admirals in a case involving a person charged with war crimes in a military commission at Guantanamo Bay. We argued that it is safer for Americans and safer for military personnel abroad to provide a forum in the U.S. courts to address those types of charges, rather than charging these people in a secret military commission in Guantanamo Bay.
Big Law Business: You worked a lot with Jim Brosnahan. Has that influenced the way you practice law?
Chatterjee: Absolutely. Jim Brosnahan is a brilliant trial lawyer and a master at diving down into the details and finding the path to success. I owe much of my skills and trial practice to him. We remain close.
Big Law Business: Do you also carry a copy of the constitution in your breast pocket?
Chatterjee: (Laughs) I could be wrong but think Jim started doing that when we started representing John Lindh. No, but I do have one on my bookshelf.