Also, note the partner's name.
Legal Research? Get Me Sushi, With Footnotes
October 22, 2003
By Jonathan D. Glater
The memo has footnotes. It has exhibits. It is crisp and
professional and is written on stationery of Paul, Weiss,
Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, one of New York's elite law
firms. Indeed, it is the hottest law firm memo around town,
but it is not about Enron, Tyco or any corporate scandal.
It was not even written by a lawyer.
It is the sushi memo, and here is its story.
A Paul Weiss partner, Kelley D. Parker, apparently received a
subpar order of takeout sushi. So, according to the memo,
she asked a paralegal to research local sushi restaurants.
The paralegal took to the task aggressively, interviewing
lawyers and staff members at the firm, reading online and
ZagatSurvey reviews, and producing a three-page opus with
eight footnotes and two exhibits (two sets of menus). The
memo concludes by expressing the hope that Ms. Parker will
now be able to choose "the restaurant from which your
dinner will be ordered on a going-forward basis."
The memo was written more than three months ago, and its
studiously formal language suggests it could be a parody.
Regardless, it is making the rounds of New York law firms
and Web sites like Gawker.com, circulated by associates and
paralegals eager to expose what they see as the capricious
and demanding behavior of partners. Some believe it
illustrates the climate of a large law firm for many
paralegals, who may feel compelled to give every assignment
the single-minded vigor of a filing in a capital case, even
if they are only helping to find some particularly fresh
"This is what people fear," said an associate at another
law firm, speaking generally and anonymously out of fear of
partner retribution. "It's some sense of arbitrary,
dictatorial relationship that we all fear goes on between
bosses and their underlings. People really do make people
do these things."
Neither Ms. Parker nor Kimberly Arena, the paralegal,
returned phone calls seeking comment. Jason Schaefer, a
junior lawyer at the firm whose name is also on the memo,
declined to comment and hung up the phone for emphasis. In
fact, no one at Paul, Weiss, whose Midtown offices are
surrounded by sushi restaurants, wanted to discuss the
memo, making it hard to figure out if it is serious.
The memo is well sourced, repeatedly citing ZagatSurvey
restaurant reviews. It seems to include useful information,
claiming, for example, that Monday is the worst day to
order sushi because fresh fish is usually delivered on
"This paralegal probably felt that it was very important
for him or her to do as good a job on this assignment as on
any other," said David Wilkins, director of the program on
the legal profession at Harvard Law School.
"The real question," he added later, "is where did the
paralegal bill his or her time?"
Law firms can charge more than $100 an hour for a
paralegal's time, and paralegals generally must account for
all their working hours. That means that either a client
paid for the time it took to prepare the memo, or the
billable hours spent on the memo were lost to the firm.
"The partners at the firm might have something to say about
whether that was a very good use of the paralegal's time,"
Mr. Wilkins said.
While the law firm would not address any other questions
about the memo, a spokeswoman did respond to this one. She
said that no client of Paul, Weiss was billed for the time
spent writing the sushi memo.