Biglaw, California, Intellectual Property, Litigators, Musical Chairs, Partner Issues

Is Baker & McKenzie Closing in San Diego?

The mega-firm of Baker & McKenzie has a global footprint, with 70 offices in 42 countries. It’s one of the world’s largest law firms, in terms of both headcount and revenue.

But are Baker’s 70 offices about to become… 69? For weeks, reports have been circulating about the possible demise of the firm’s outpost in San Diego. As you may recall, this little office is home to big drama.

Let’s look at the latest news about Baker in San Diego….

Last year, support staff members at Baker & McKenzie were on the verge of revolt. They complained to us here at Above the Law about frozen salaries and miniscule bonuses.

But perhaps they should just have been happy to have jobs? A tipster recently told us: “Check Baker & McKenzie San Diego. Management decided to close the office a while back, yet they have not told clients or employees. Culture of deception?”

Other sources have provided us with intelligence along similar lines. They claim that the office is closing this month.

The reports of office closure have intensified over the past week, but they are not new. Last month, a source with knowledge about Baker & McKenzie’s operations told the Daily Journal (sub. req.) that the San Diego office has been slated for shutdown. The managing partner of the office, Colin Murray, responded to the Daily Journal’s inquiries by saying, “I don’t know what kind of information you have.”

The kind of information we have is… not good. Lawyer headcount in the office has dropped dramatically over the past few years. Am Law Daily recently covered some high-profile partner defections, in the coveted area of intellectual property litigation:

Baker & McKenzie is losing two IP partners in San Diego, according to The Recorder, which reports that the duo of James Conley and Howard Wisnia will join the local office of Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo. The departures leave Baker & McKenzie’s San Diego office, which had 45 lawyers a decade ago, down to 13 lawyers, four of them partners.

Thirteen lawyers may be on the high side. According to a correction posted on the ABA Journal, current headcount is even lower: “The San Diego office of Baker & McKenzie has only eight lawyers remaining after two of its intellectual property litigators jumped this week to Mintz, Levin….” (It’s not clear, though, where the ABA Journal obtained the figure of eight; if you run a search on the Baker website, you get 12 lawyers in San Diego.)

UPDATE (12 PM): The number of eight lawyers came from the Daily Journal. Apparently some of the lawyers listed as affiliated with Baker’s San Diego office do not practice out of that office on a full-time basis.

If the office does end up closing, could real estate miscalculations have played a role in its demise? According to commenters on our earlier staff revolt story:

This is a symptom of the real story……… B&M f**ked up the lease at the SD office a couple years ago and have had to pay double rent for space they no longer use. All the SoCal partners had/have to reach into their pockets to cover it. B&M ain’t giving the SD office squat.

See also:

True dat — the B&M partners made a huge miscalculation when signing up for the new office space, and making very costly improvements before moving in. I understand that it’s an entire floor of the building with 50 office spaces, but with only about 15 attorneys working there. And the SD partners have a reputation for being the most miserable a**holes in the world.

We reached out to Baker & McKenzie’s firm spokesperson in Chicago for comment on the possible closing of the San Diego office. He did not respond to our inquiries, made last week and again this week.

How should such silence, from Colin Murray in San Diego and from firm brass in Chicago, be interpreted? One source suggests: “When management does not deny closing, that tells you all you need to know.”

But look, it ain’t over until it’s over. Could the reports of this office’s demise be greatly exaggerated?

We’d like to get to the bottom of this. If you have information about what’s going on at Baker & McKenzie in San Diego, we welcome it, by email or by text message (646-820-8477 / 646-820-TIPS). Thanks.

UPDATE (4/3/2012): Baker & McKenzie closed its San Diego office on Friday, March 30, 2012.

Baker’s San Diego Outpost Continues to Shrink; Is Office Closing a Possibility? [ABA Journal]
Megafirm Merry-Go-Round: Lateral Movement Picking Up Among Legal Industry Giants [Am Law Daily]

Earlier: Is the Staff Getting the Short End of the Stick at Baker & McKenzie?

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