Labor and employment litigator Adam Levin said he likes to comb through all the details and facts of a case, taking them apart and putting them back together like the parts of a three-dimensional puzzle. And he also loves a good mystery.
"Every case I handle is like a mystery," he said. "And what I enjoy most is getting to the core of the mystery, gathering the facts through discovery and through other investigatory means and figuring out what's really going on [...]. And once you put together the story, "hopefully the ending is one that's beneficial for the clients."
Fortunately for Levin's clients, he's very good at putting the pieces of the mystery together. As a partner with Mitchell, Silberberg & Knupp, he has a thriving labor and employment practice and has several high-profile clients in the motion picture, television, and recording industries.
For example, he successfully defended Warner Brothers Television Production and several writers in the high-profile wrongful termination and harassment suit Lyle v. Warner Brothers Television Production. In the case, Amaani Lyle, an African-American writer's assistant for the hit show Friends, claimed that she was subjected to sexually and racially offensive comments from writers on the show. Lyle had been fired for poor performance after four months. Her suit included wrongful termination as well as sexual and racial discrimination and harassment claims. Levin's defense was that the writers' off-color comments—none of which had been directed at Lyle—were part of the creative process and should be protected under the First Amendment.
Levin got the entire case thrown out at the trial court level and obtained an award of 415,000 dollars in attorney's fees. However, the California Court of Appeal reversed the decision with regard to the harassment claims, while affirming summary judgment regarding Lyle's other claims. Levin and his colleagues took the matter to the California Supreme Court, where they argued the case on Valentine's Day of this year. The court returned a unanimous verdict in his clients' favor in April.
"Basically the case was a challenge to the Constitutional rights of the writers and the producers of the television show Friends," Levin said. "And I think that Constitutional rights are often overlooked in employment litigation matters, but that really became front and center in this litigation, primarily because of the nature of the workplace. This was somewhat of a unique workplace, in that it was a writers' room on a television show where the free speech rights were so integral to the nature of the business and the job the writers had to do. And Justice [Ming] Chin wrote a concurring opinion signaling that this case really wasn't about harassment, but it was primarily about First Amendment rights."
In another significant case, Levin represented Elektra Records in a discrimination action, Flores v. Elektra Records. Nathaniel W. Flores, an aspiring Portuguese recording artist, sued Elektra for discrimination because he felt he had been wrongfully denied a contract with the record company because of his national origin. Levin was able to get the case thrown out in trial court, and the decision was affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit last year.
Levin has also appeared as Counsel of Record for Sony Pictures Television, Walt Disney, Warner Music Group, Warner Brothers Records, and Universal Music Group.
He is currently representing Wet Seal, a leading specialty retailer, in a class action, as well as American Apparel in various matters. He is also representing Homestore, now known as Move, in a lawsuit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Levin said he decided he wanted a career in law as a sophomore at Claremont McKenna College, where he was a political science major.
"I enjoyed a good argument and loved the logical thinking involved in debate," he said. "And, as a result, I thought perhaps a career in law would suit me. I tend to think in a somewhat logical fashion, and I think that probably one of my strengths as a lawyer is my writing, because I write very logically. And I've been told that I'm persuasive in my writing, and I think that all comes from how I take an issue and pull it apart and try to put it back together again."
After graduating from Claremont McKenna in 1988, Levin went on to the University of San Diego School of Law and earned his law degree with honors in 1991. Following graduation, he clerked for a year for Judge A. Andrew Hauk of the United States District Court, Central District of California. In 1992, Levin joined international law firm Fulbright & Jaworski in its Los Angeles office. Levin said he was a "general-purpose litigator with an emphasis on employment litigation" while at Fulbright. After being at the firm for two years, he joined Mitchell Silberberg's Los Angeles office in 1994.
Levin explained why he made the move: "I was looking to broaden my horizons in terms of the kind of employment and labor work that I was doing," he said. "So I was looking for more of a full-service employment and labor practice, and that's ultimately why I came to Mitchell Silberberg."
He said that, in addition to his labor and employment work, he handles "right of privacy, First Amendment-type cases." He also represents Internet websites and companies in disputes over the validity of model releases.
Levin said that William Cole, who heads the labor department at Mitchell Silberberg, has had a big influence on him. "Bill Cole has shown me that you can be tremendously successful both as a lawyer and a business developer through honesty and courtesy and being a mensch," he said.
Levin said that he gets the opportunity to speak to law students when he interviews prospective employees for the firm. He explained what he enjoys most about working with young lawyers:
"What I enjoy most about working with young attorneys is when I see them kind of cut the cord and handle a matter on their own and get kudos from the clients or great results in court," Levin said. "They just beam because they achieve so much on their own, and I feel like, at that point, we as partners at the firm have done our job."
Levin advised law students and young attorneys to "take ownership of their work." He added, "And you have to love it, and you have to get into it, and you have to be passionate about it. And if you are, then you're going to really excel in most instances."
Levin said one of the things in the legal community that has been of concern to him is the lack of civility among lawyers on opposing sides of cases.
"It used to be when I first started practicing that the relationship amongst adversaries was more collegial," he commented. "And it wasn't that long ago, but it seems that over the years that more and more plaintiffs' lawyers and defense lawyers are at each other's throats, and that professionalism has been sacrificed. And for my role in litigation, but also in connection with the attorneys I work with, I have tried to get everybody to view it in a different way, to try to view it as problem-solving [...]. But if lawyers are screaming at each other, we're never going to communicate to be able to get to a mutually satisfactory resolution. And I find that when the lawyers aren't communicating, ultimately it becomes more expensive for the clients, and it's not to anybody's benefit. So what I've tried to do in my practice is to bring civility back to litigation as much as possible."
Levin said the highlight of his professional career was his involvement in the Lyle v. Warner Brothers Television Production case.
"It's not often that litigators get the opportunity to argue in front of any Supreme Court, including the California Supreme Court," he said. "And it was such an important issue, both for my clients but also for many different industries where free speech is so critical. And to have that opportunity and then ultimately have our Supreme Court, 7 to 0, agree with our client's position was tremendously gratifying."
When he's not handling big cases, Levin said he likes to run in his free time.
"I find that by getting outdoors with my iPod and my [punk rock] music and going on a long run that, by the end of the run, I have solved many complicated legal messes," he said. "It's amazing [how], when you're not sitting there dwelling on an issue but actually trying to clear your head, the craziest ideas or the most clever strategies suddenly appear," he said.
Levin said his professional goal for the future is to continue doing exactly what he's doing now in his law practice.
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