Court Says Attorney/Firm Comp Agreement is Ambiguous

July 6, 2007 ( - A Manhattan appellate court ruled Thursday that the language in a compensation agreement between law firm Winston & Strawn and one of its attorneys, who claimed the agreement exempted him from a wage "decompression" policy, was ambiguous.

In reversing a previous decision by the Manhattan Supreme Court granting summary judgment to the Chicago-based firm, the appellate court remanded the case to trial court for interpretation of the document. The language in the 2001 agreement in question said that Winston & Strawn’s executive committee would consider Anthony LoFrisco’s request to maintain compensation at a level commensurate with a 1994 agreement on a year-by-year basis.

“Specifically, that consideration will consist of the same analysis of your contributions to the Firm as conducted in this fiscal year, as well as prior fiscal years,” the agreement said, according to the court opinion. The appellate court panel said the language stating that the firm would consider LoFrisco’s compensation requests using the “same analysis” as in prior years could be read as a specific commitment to LoFrisco.

LoFrisco brought the suit against his firm when it reduced his pay from $2.3 million in 2002 to $350,000 in 2004. LoFrisco was one of the firm’s top lawyers, touting such clients as General Electric Co. Chairman Jack Welch.

LoFrisco claimed that in 2001 the firm had agreed to continue an earlier deal in which he received 13% of his General Electric billings and exempt him from decompression.

The Manhattan Supreme Court granted summary judgment to Winston & Strawn in 2005, saying that the 2001 agreement gave the firm’s executive committee full reign over decisions concerning Lofrisco’s pay.

The opinion is  here .