Interesting E-mail Exchange About the Redskins Case at the Firm Representing the Team

Above the Law, a blog (or “blawg”) about law firms and other law related stuff, has a post about an e-mail exchange between lawyers at Quinn Emmanuel, the firm that represented the Redskins in their recent victory. After the partner in charge of the case sent a firmwide message boasting about the victory, a first-year associate replied to the entire firm and essentially suggested that the firm was on the wrong side of the battle.

Check it out here.

Quinn Emanuel Associate Has Reservations About ‘Redskin’ Victory

quinn redskins.jpgHere’s a post devoted to the perils of “Reply All” and idealism among first-year associates. Brought to you by the attorneys of Quinn Emanuel.

The firm just celebrated a victory in its Washington Redskins case, reports the Washington Post:

A federal appeals court yesterday handed the Washington Redskins another victory in their long-running legal dispute with Native American activists over the team’s name.

The appeals court did not address whether the name was offensive but upheld a federal judge’s ruling last year that a Native American man had waited too long to challenge six Redskins trademarks.

AmLaw Daily reports that Quinn attorney Robert Raskopf, who has been working on the case for as long it has been since the Redskins have seen a Superbowl stadium, was pretty psyched about the victory:

Raskopf was in a good mood when we spoke with him about the appellate win. He’s been on the case since it started 17 years ago. “It’s a great win for the team,” said Raskopf, who had help from Quinn partner Sanford Weisburst on the brief. “I’m so happy for the Redskins and their fans.”

Raskopf was so happy on Friday that he sent out a firm-wide victory e-mail. But not everybody was thrilled. After bouncing around the firm and racking up some responses, the victory chain made its way to our inbox via a tipster:

This is too good not to share. This was sent to all Quinn attorneys.

The First Year Associate Who Shat All Over Raskopf’s Victory Email OR The First Year Associate Who Repurposed the Redskins

After the jump, see the chain that culminates in a (soon-to-be-fired?) first-year associate’s plea for idealistic litigation at Quinn.

Here’s the chain. We’ve put it in chronological order for you, and redacted all names but Raskopf’s (replacing real names with the monikers that you see in capitalized letters). The first year — while high on idealism or drugs — decided to go at it with a New York partner, then send their private correspondence to everyone at the firm.

Later, the first year responded to Above the Law’s request for comment. We’ll get to the response after you read the email chain below.

Please don’t disclose identities in the comments or we will ban you from the wagon.


robert raskopf quinn.jpgFrom: Robert Raskopf
Sent: Friday, May 15, 2009 9:34 AM
To: Attorneys
Subject: Washington Redskins Victory

One of the longest-running and closely-watched battles in the annals of trademark law took a decisive turn this morning when the DC Circuit (per Sentelle, CJ, Henderson and Tatel) affirmed the ruling of trial judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly that the seven Native American activists who filed a petition to cancel the Redskins’ marks on the basis of disparagement waited too long to do so. The first of the six registrations under attack in the 1992 Complaint was registered in 1967, such that the period of delay was 25 years. Rather than provide the blow-by blow, I’m sending you all the opinion of the DC Circuit (only 9 pages [PDF]).

There are quite a few people here who deserve high praise for pulling off this very difficult win in an adversely politically charged atmosphere. Permit me to start with REDACTED, who authored the winning brief and whose work on these things is unmatched in my experience. But there are many more who brought this case to a wonderful finish in their own variously inimitable ways and upped the vaunted Q/E victory record along the way. They are: [REDACTED].

What a win. What a firm. Did someone say “America’s Firm”?

Sent: Friday, May 15, 2009 3:16 PM
To: Robert Raskopf; Attorneys
Subject: RE: Washington Redskins Victory


this email is meant neither to rouse some rabble or down some debbies or outcrunch some crunchies. quite the opposite – i get excited whenever i get victory emails (and even replies to victory emails). this is/was an interesting case that i know (well, i guess i don’t know, exactly, but i think) turned on issues not related to whether or not native americans were being slighted by the redskins mascot. but i feel compelled to the point i’m willing to write (and i’m from iowa so imposition is a slow, agonizing death) with a request that we might take a moment (water fountain break, going to nelly and claire’s shop downstairs, getting printouts) to think about how many people (native americans, americans, non-native americans, non-american natives) are bummed today because a mascot they find offensive remains on the second column of the sports page and on a kid’s hat and on espn’s score ticker (and, to a lesser extent, on cnn headline sport’s score ticker).

obviously in writing this email, my end position on this matter is pretty clear, but i still, at times, try to make sense of whether or not the mascot is /that/ offensive or even that important an issue to fight. in saying that, i’m just saying i’m willing to chat about it to make sense of it, and i hope others are as well.

and i’ll leave on something cheesy: it’s incredibly humbling and gratifying to work at quinn, but i really hope america’s firm will be native america’s firm as well. (that’s soooooooooooo dorky, but eh.)

earnest congratulations on the win, for reals, and i hope everyone has a fun weekend!


Sent: Friday, May 15, 2009 12:46 PM
Cc: Robert Raskopf
Subject: RE: Washington Redskins Victory

FIRST YEAR ASSOCIATE: We have not met. I am in the NY office. I sit down the hall from Bob. Calling Bob out in front of the entire firm is a poor use of the “reply to all” function. Note the lack of any parentheses in this email. It makes it much easier to read.

Bob and I represent clients, not causes. We like Native Americans. If Native Americans had hired Bob, the Redskins would have lost the case. But they didn’t. They hired someone else. So it was incumbent on Bob to kick their ass in court. It is really that simple.

But I digress. The real purpose of this email was to suggest that you made a mistake by sending your email to every lawyer in the firm, thus ensuring that every time someone says your name, they will think “isn’t he the first year that shit all over Raskopf’s victory email?”

Sent: Friday, May 15, 2009 3:22 PM
Cc: Robert Raskopf
Subject: RE: Washington Redskins Victory


indeed, we haven’t met. but we’re (kind of) meeting now. hi.

i think if you reread my email, then you will find i in no way called out bob’s position on native americans or, for that matter, called into question either his ability as a lawyer (i think i adequately praised the win) or his constitution as a person (no comments on that issue, either). to say i called bob out is to focus my general comment on a ex post facto whipping boy created in your email and not in mine. but, i admit, i might be wrong on that point.

i legitimately have no animosity toward the people staffed on this case, the firm, or even the decision that the court reached today. i do, however, feel strongly about native american rights and their relation to both professional and amateur sports mascots. i also firmly believe a major problem in the progression of native american rights, generally, is the lack of visibility afforded to the culture in the united states. by emailing the firm about the topic, which i hope i did politely, i tried to raise a smidgen of awareness for the cause… and even if a person disagrees with the idea that native american mascots are, let’s say, objectionable, then all that’s lost in my email transaction was a little time to reading an email.

now, if i have in any way offended anyone’s professional reputation or just their personal sensibility, then i will gladly discuss the matter with them and apologize, if merited, either publicly or privately.

as for lingering points, i truthfully believe i didn’t make a mistake in emailing. again, if i injured anyone’s professional reputation (other than my own), which i doubt i did, then i can see how that might be a mistake. that said, i still think the overall good of just asking people to think about how hurtful it is to be hear ‘redskin’ outweighs the chance of harm, which i minimized in the email by (1) using a relaxed tone (including parentheticals (which i think are fun to read)), (2) admitting that the issue is difficult for even myself to comprehend, and (3) by praising the efforts of the trial team. and i hope and pray that a list of ubereducated and sometimes brilliant men and women can consume an email like that without collateral damage. if not, again, i would gladly discuss the matter.

lastly, i don’t mean to sound flippant. if i do, i apologize, but i believe, soundly, in what i wrote both then and now.

all the best…


Sent: Monday, May 18, 2009 6:45 PM
To: Attorneys
Subject: aloha, redskins

The First Year Associate Who Shat All Over Raskopf’s Victory Email
The First Year Associate Who Repurposed the Redskins



hey. sorry to write to you again. i’m surely wearing out my welcome. eek!

anywho, i think i finally realized that quinn emanuel is indeed not:

1. a dating service
2. a family
3. a commune (although i do get to have flowers on my office wall)

i get it. we’re a business. specifically, we’re a law firm. as such, our charge, at its most basic, is to make money (that’s the business part) while doing the lawyer thing (that’s the law firm part). i think i denied that reality, but i’ve accepted it. i’m yet to accept, however, that we can’t incorporate into our firm the qualities that make families and communes and dating services cool.

briefly, though, i’d like to take a quick sidetrack. i have an awesome memory from hanging out with my dad as a kid. we were driving to rapid city to visit family in, i think, 1987, meaning i was six or so. in the middle of south dakota, which is rather boring, my dad starting entertaining me by telling me about the local tribes. specifically, he told me how the native americans would kill buffalos and, in turn, utilize all the buffalo parts for some purpose or another. time for some paraphrased nostalgia!

BABY FIRST YEAR ASSOCIATE: why bother with all the buffalo parts?
dad: the buffalo was dead. sunk cost and whatnot.

and so i learned that if i have been given a gift, then i might as well make something out of it (even if the gift is of the lemons/lemonade persuasion). and dad would continue with a fun game where i would name a part of the buffalo, and dad, who in hindsight was probably bs-ing answers since they were often cartoonish, would tell me the repurpose:

dad: they’d inflate them and use them as pillows.
BABY FIRST YEAR ASSOCIATE: really? wow! the hooves?
dad: glue.
dad: brooms.
BABY FIRST YEAR ASSOCIATE: [and that’s when i’d try to get clever.] how about the… nose?
(what good is a buffalo nose, right?)
dad: [pausing before smiling] they’d use it as a thimble.

i went slackjawed even though i wasn’t sure what a thimble (let alone a sunk cost) was. i just knew a person could repurpose anything (even a dead buffalo’s nose!) and that was pretty darn cool.

back to firm. i know our overall goal here is to win cases and make money, but that, to me, feels like we’re wasting a bunch of our gifts and talents (and sunk costs (read: legal educations (read: dead buffalos))), which is pretty tragic given that i honestly believe quinn houses some of the best, most creative minds (legal or otherwise) in the country. so why not turn those minds to something positive and make some thimbles? (well, because it can seem financially inefficient, i presume, but it needn’t be that way, especially as we’re currently standing amid the ruins of singularly-purposed, non-green law firms.)

now i happen to have an idea of something positive the firm could do. here’s my thinking:

1. i think it’d be cool to work in a post-racial america.
2. i think it’s incredibly tough for post-racial america, whatever it may be, to exist while a prominent team in our most-beloved league (sorry, united states hockey league (go muskies!)) has ‘redskins’ as a mascot.
3. i think post-racial america might appear a couple of days earlier than expected if the chicago bears played the washington fightin’ congresspeople or, really, washington plus anything non-redskins (oh, and preferably non-chiefs or non-indians or non-braves.) i might humbly suggest the washington buffalos (although the buffalo bills would probably get grouchy over that).


4. let’s try and get the redskins mascot pushed to the curb.

why we can do it:

1. we’re smart!

we can come up with an argument for the washington franchise to change the mascot. we’re smart enough to spin it as a positive for them… and not in the abstract. a mascot change for washington, i imagine, could be a moneymaker for the franchise… buying the new hat, buying the new jersey, all the positive press… but i’m not sure about these things. that’s why i’d like to talk about it.

2. we have summer associate resources, yo!

summers are about to start. if i remember from my time, there were one or two hours of downtime during my summer. why not let the summer associates bill an hour to pro bono and let them brainstorm ideas as to how to why washington should switch it up?

3. we know other smart people!

we may not be able to get this done on our own, but we know smart friends from law schools and from churches and from the block. ask them if they can come together with a reason why washington should be the non-redskins. further, we can take all of these reasons to a really, really, really smart person, who could compile them and offer them to the washington franchise. and if washington doesn’t change its mascot, then what have we lost? a little bit of time and effort is all. in return, we’d get some better karma, which i’ll gladly take. and think how cool it would be if our firm got washington to change its mascot!

why we need to do it:



back to an earlier point. i realize we’re a business comprised of grownups, which means we can keep this idea internal. i see no reason for us to go posting/forwarding this email to all corners of the internet. we can do this in-house and do it well and do it for extra-cheap. (there is a recession on.)

so here’s to hoping you might get on board with this idea. if not, no worries. and i’m sorry for the imposition, but i really believe we’re primed right now to do something good for native americans, the firm, and the world (why not say it?). 🙂

with that, let the (hopefully civil) discussion begin. here’s to hoping that you have a fun day, that i don’t get michael clayton-ed :), and that dad’s dream of the redskins’ mascot being repurposed will finally come true.

all the best…

But the awesome thread doesn’t end there. We at Above the Law reached out to the associate. In true Quinn Emanuel style, we received a response that was totally devoid of capital letters:

to answer your question, i think i still have a job. even if i didn’t, my tune wouldn’t change that quinn is a cool firm with smart, nice, and chill lawyers. honestly.

about the email, it was the first time i’ve had a correct legal decision perpendicular to (what i believe to be) a “correct” moral position that i held/hold. (i don’t know if moral is necessarily the word i want — ever since i watched election i get nervous using ‘moral’ and ‘ethical’.) that dissonance was legitimately painful for me. i’m sorry if i worked through it in too public a manner and, beyond that, if anyone was harmed, either professionally or personally, i apologize here and would like to do so privately as well.

Spokespeople for Quinn Emanuel declined to comment for this story, but their young associate had more to say when contacted by ATL. It’s not really germane to the issue at hand, but whatever:

real quick… word on the street is it that your blog is read by firm lawyers. 🙂 i’d like to throw something out to them cuz word on the street (it’s a chatty street today, it seems) is that summer associateships are starting. and what’s a great part about summer associateships???? summer lunches! yumyumyumyumyum.

but word on the (wall) street (ha) is that there’s a recession on, which sucks. here’s a quick way to be gluttonous (on goodwill) if you’re a summer associate:

ask your firm if you can do an easy fundraiser. take one day this summer where instead of summer lunchin’ all the summer associates bring sack lunches for the noonhour. sadie hawkins it up and have them invite an associate. so now the firm has saved:

$20 for summer associate lunch
$20 for associate lunch

that’s $40 per pair. invite a local soup kitchen or food bank into your office to give a talk so you’re not bored at the lunch, present them a tax write offable (i think, eek) check for…

10 summers in a class x 10 associates = $400!!!

…and you’ve done something pretty cool for the world. easy breezy!

have a great day…

Interesting idea. It reminds us a bit of Simpson Thacher’s Chow for Charity program.

In any event, we’ll be very interested to see if this young lawyer can hang onto a Biglaw job. On the one hand, expressing an opinion about the term “redskins” probably isn’t a fireable offense. On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine that Quinn Emanuel wants its junior associates engaging in public debates about controversial racial issues — and saying that the firm is on the wrong side of the moral imperative.

What do you think is going to happen? What do you think should happen? We’ll keep you posted.

Appeals Court Sides With Team In Suit Challenging Trademark [Washington Post]
Quinn Emanuel’s Raskopf Wins Affirmance of Washington Redskins’ Trademarks [AmLaw]

2 thoughts on “Interesting E-mail Exchange About the Redskins Case at the Firm Representing the Team

  1. LT May 20, 2009 / 3:46 pm

    Very interesting. I wonder if anyone (besides HR) took him up on his offer of “a chat.” I think he must not have any college loans to worry about . . .

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