Musical Chairs, Partner Issues, Wildman Harrold

Wildman Harrold Bars the Doors: Enforces 90-Day Notice Period on Partners Who Want Out

Does Wildman Harrold force its partners to take a blood oath? The story ripping around the blogosphere today involves Wildman Harrold enforcing a 90-day notice period on a group of partners who want to leave the firm for Barnes & Thornburg.

What is the upside in forcing colleagues to stay who don’t want to be there anymore? That’s unclear.

But the downside should be obvious. Letting it get to this point is like putting up a big red sign to potential future partners at Wildman that reads: “If you ever leave us we’ll do everything we can to screw you.” Wildman might not be at the boiling rabbits stage, but it’s pretty easy to get a reputation as that crazy chick nobody wants to date.

Of course, to hear Wildman tell it, nothing unusual is going on here, the firm is just following its procedures…

It’s so weird for a firm to actively prevent the lateral movement of its partners that the story made the Chicago Tribune. The paper was able to get this statement from Wildman Harrold:

In a statement, Stephen Landes, a Wildman Harrold partner and chair of its professional standards, said the firm does not anticipate it will make the departing partners stay for the full 90 days.

“We have a standard process we follow to ensure a smooth transition that protects the interests of the clients,” Landes said. “To this end, our partnership agreement requires departing partners to give 90 days’ notice.

Sure, Wildman would like people to believe that nothing weird is going on here, but that just doesn’t pass the smell test. The Tribune further reports:

But even a 10-day delay in releasing the partners is unusual, legal recruiters say. Partners switch firms so often nowadays that notice periods are rarely enforced. Separations are quickly negotiated to avoid putting clients at risk and messy divorces.

Obviously, the people at Barnes & Thornburg don’t know what kind of stick is up Wildman’s ass:

Still, Mark Rust, managing partner of Barnes & Thornburg’s Chicago office, who has hired dozens of lawyers from other firms, said attorneys are usually released within a day or two of announcing their departures.

“What’s the point of having a lawyer who wants to leave hang around for 30 days?” Rust said.

Despite Wildman’s apparent reluctance, Barnes & Thornburg is going full speed ahead with its announcement of the new hires. From the Barnes & Thornburg press release:

Barnes & Thornburg LLP announced today that six Wildman, Harrold, Allen & Dixon LLP attorneys will join the firm’s Litigation practice as partners in the Chicago office.

The attorneys who will join Barnes & Thornburg are Brian W. Lewis, Mark P. Miller, H. Roderic Heard, Paul Olszowka, Kenneth M. Gorenberg and Joseph F. Madonia. Their arrival will bolster Barnes & Thornburg’s complex commercial litigation capabilities nationally, as well as in the Chicago office, particularly in the areas of antitrust, dealer distribution, intellectual property, environmental and insurance coverage disputes.

Maybe Wildman Harrold is just sick of losing partners? A tipster reports that these departures are just the latest in a long line of partner defections from the firm:

[This is after] the profitable suburban office went to Ice Miller, the estate planners went to Hamilton Thies and to Swanson Bell, and the private equity team went to McGuire Woods.

In fairness to Wildman, partners come and go all the time. One firm’s valued additions are another firm’s under-performing group.

But that is what makes this Wildman story all the more bizarre. Partners leave all the time, and there’s really not a whole lot of reason to delay those departures. I mean, are Wildman partners calling up the clients of their departing colleagues and trying out their best Bob Sugar impersonations?

Sorry for your loss, Wildman people, but it seems like it’s time to let these people go.

Departing Wildman Harrold partners may be there for a while [Chicago Tribune]
Barnes & Thornburg Continues Growth of Chicago Office With Addition of Six Litigation Partners [Barnes & Thornburg]
Six Wildman Harrold Partners Unsure When Firm Will Allow Them to Leave [ABA Journal]

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