Chicago Boutique Expands to Silicon Valley, Courting Streamers

By Staff | October 1, 2019

Published at American Lawyer, September 30, 2019

Politically connected Chicago lawyer Bill Quinlan can already tout a fresh Bay Area victory in an online gamer’s case against Twitch.

As live-streamed gaming continues to generate ever-larger revenues, Chicago lawyer Bill Quinlan is expanding his small firm to Silicon Valley, betting on future tech clients and on a burgeoning practice representing online video gamers.

· Quinlan, whose family has political ties in Illinois, is representing gamer James “Phantoml0rd” Varga, who is suing Twitch in San Francisco County Superior Court after the Amazon-owned streaming platform terminated his account and content partner agreement in 2016.

The Quinlan Law Firm earlier this month opened its office in Menlo Park, California, the firm’s second outpost outside Chicago. That office will be led by Eric Schmitt, who was an associate at Sidley Austin and a judicial clerk on the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington. D.C. The firm now has 10 attorneys working in Chicago, Phoenix and California and is hiring two more, Quinlan said.

“That is the toughest thing we’re trying to do, making sure we’re growing the right way with the right people,” Quinlan said. “We have a lot of people who are on the road a lot. … You have to get your work done, no matter where you’re sitting.”

· · The lawsuit between Varga and Twitch, which one gaming website described as one of “the most significant lawsuits in streaming history,” has entered a key phase. On Friday, Judge Curtis Karnow held in a proposed ruling that the limited liability provision within Varga‘s contracts with Twitch were unconscionable, expanding the amount in damages he can recoup under his lawsuit.

· “I feel good about my case no matter what,” Quinlan said days before Karnow issued his ruling. “From an efficiency standpoint, it makes sense to deal with that issue, and then you can decide what the universe of damages are.” Twtich’s lawyers at Davis Wright Tremaine didn’t respond to a request for comment.

· Quinlan said there are not a lot of regulations or case precedent that dictate the relationship between streamers such as Varga and platforms such as Twitch. “How do you protect someone from being taken advantage of? What are the limitations?” Quinlan said.

· Quinlan said he’s been approached by other people who have their own issues with streaming platforms. Although he’s not participating in any other lawsuits yet, he is physically expanding his firm so that he and his colleagues can represent not only streamers, but other tech clients.

· Varga’s lawsuit is the first of its kind, Quinlan said. Before he was booted off the platform, Varga had over 1 million followers on Twitch and 16,000 paid subscribers. As part of their 2012 contract, Varga and Twitch shared the revenue that came from advertising on Vargas’ account as well as paid subscription.

· His videos had been viewed 88 million times. If every single follower of Varga’s were in one place, the gathering would be the size of a U.S. city, Quinlan said.

· “It’s a world where, when you talk about the business of law, what’s the future look like, we see there might not be TV stations. I see it with my 15-year-old son. He looks for direct content. He goes to YouTube or Twitch or various websites to do that,” Quinlan said. “It’s the Wild West to the degree it’s unregulated, there has not been a deep history as there would be TV or radio and the like.”

· In his complaint, Varga alleged that Twitch improperly suspended him from the platform, at first not telling him why he was being booted or giving him a chance to appeal.

· Twitch countersued, alleging that Varga was frequently warned about streaming a website where people could use real money to purchase random weapon skins that were used in the game “CounterStrike: Global Offensive.” The company further alleged that Varga had an undisclosed financial interest in CSGOShuffle, and it’s because of that Varga was portrayed as getting a desirable in-game weapon skin better than they were.

· Varga countered that these were “unsubstantiated allegations” from a Breitbart reporter and that Twitch never asked him about it.

· Quinlan rents office space in the 110-story Willis Tower from the Chicago outpost of Tressler, an insurance industry defense firm. Quinlan said there’s no professional relationship between his firm and Tressler.

· Quinlan has previously worked for a variety of Illinois political heavyweights, including House Speaker Michael Madigan, former U.S. Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski and former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. His father, William R. Quinlan, was a Cook County and Illinois appellate judge and was the Chicago city government’s top attorney under three mayors. His uncle was the former president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners.