Layoffs, Robert Link, Screw-Ups

Cadwalader to Its Chairman: You Are the Weakest Link. Goodbye.

Cadwalader Wickersham Taft CWT Abovethelaw Above the Law legal tabloid blog.JPGCynics might say the firm is rearranging the proverbial deck chairs, but these leadership changes strike us as prudent. From a report by Anthony Lin in the New York Law Journal:

As it wrestles with an ongoing slump in its core capital markets practice, Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft has shaken up its top management team.

The New York-based law firm announced today that Robert O. Link, its longtime chairman and managing partner, would relinquish the position of chairman to W. Christopher White, effective March 1. Mr. Link will continue to serve as Cadwalader’s managing partner and remain a member of the firm’s six-partner management committee.

The firm minimizes the import of the change:

[Management committee member (and Cameron Diaz pal) Gregory] Markel said the elevation of Mr. White was “not in any way a criticism of Bob.” He said the firm would regard Messrs. White and Link as a team, with neither reporting to the other.

Additional discussion, which will probably interest only die-hard CWT groupies, after the jump.

It’s not hard to read a veiled rebuke into the leadership switch, since Robert Link is so strongly associated with the firm’s more high-flying days. Writes Anthony Lin:

In an interview with the Law Journal early last year, Mr. Link predicted more success, saying: “Are we going to have trouble sustaining this? No, short of some cataclysmic event that hits everyone else too.”

But Cadwalader has most recently been challenged by the downturn in the structured finance market, an area where the firm had been considered a leader and which had been its engine of growth. The firm announced last month it was laying off 35 associates and reassigning several more.

This latest news may give rise to further schadenfreude from CWT rivals. But despite the internal turmoil and high-profile layoffs, the firm remains very profitable:

Mr. Markel said the firm’s profits per partner for 2007 fell slightly to $2.7 million, a figure he said would have been lower but for the contribution of several high-profile lateral partners who have joined the firm in the past year.

Among these have been a four-partner bankruptcy group from Weil, Gotshal & Manges, an intellectual property practice from Morgan & Finnegan, and an antitrust team from Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson. The firm most recently recruited the global private equity practice head from Latham & Watkins, R. Ronald Hopkinson.

Finally, two random bits of news not related to the leadership shift. First, a correction to something we previously wrote: item #4 in this post was not correct. From a source at the firm:

Your account of the source of the CWT leak is not accurate. There aren’t that many partners in corporate, and the usual suspects didn’t know in advance. The corporate department associates have been polled (by and amongst themselves) and not one associate knew the details in advance. We did have a sense of layoffs [in Capital Markets and Global Finance], but the specific timing was a mystery shrouded in an enigma.

Second, in recent weeks, a number of (non-laid-off) lawyers have left the firm. Where have these Cadwalader refugees been going? We hear that a number, including lawyers specializing in CMBS work, went to Winston & Strawn.
Cadwalader Shakes Up Top Management [New York Law Journal]

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