When the merger of Edwards Angell and Wildman Harrold was announced back in August 2011, some observers, such as our beloved commenters here at Above the Law, viewed the move as an act of desperation. Because both firms had a tough time during the recession, the notion of their combining with each other reminded some people of… well, this.

Now, as we approach the two-year anniversary of the merger’s announcement, how are things going over at Edwards Wildman? Are Angells flapping their wings with joy and Wildmen hoisting glasses of grog?

Not exactly, say some….

Here’s what one source reported to us, in an email with the subject line “Edwards Wildman – trouble in paradise” (query whether the firm was ever “paradise,” despite the presence of Angells):

I’m hearing tales of lateral movement through the partnership ranks. Seven attorneys in Florida office left for two firms (Cozen and another firm), plus IP just lost another partner, Peter Lauro. It seems like almost all of life science IP based out of Boston has left.

Actually, the number of lawyers leaving in Florida appears to be closer to nine, headed to three different firms. Six partners left for Cozen O’Connor: D. Scott Elliott, Michael Botos, Harvey Feintuch, A. Kenneth Levine, Simeon Brier, and John David Dickenson. Two more left for Duane Morris, including corporate partner Leslie Croland. Finally, real estate lawyer Gregory Young just joined Squire Sanders as a partner. As reported by the Daily Business Review, as a result of these defections, “Edwards Wildman will close its Fort Lauderdale office and relocate to Miami as it finds [its] footing.”

As noted above, IP partner Peter Lauro is no longer at the firm. He jumped over to Saul Ewing along with another patent lawyer, Melissa Hunter-Ensor. We also hear that another IP partner, the Chambers-ranked John Ottaviani, left Edwards Wildman to start his own firm.

The departures are not just an East Coast phenomenon. Out in California, entertainment lawyer Fred Bernstein joined Katten Muchin Rosenman earlier this year.

Of course, not all partner departures are losses. Sometimes firms want certain lawyers and practices to leave. See, e.g., Debevoise and its trusts and estates practice (now at Loeb & Loeb).

And even though many of these departing lawyers held the title of “partner,” it’s not clear how many of them were equity partners (read: heavy hitters with big books of business). According to the American Lawyer’s survey of non-equity partner compensation from last fall, Edwards Wildman has the second-highest figure for non-equity partners as a percentage of the total partnership. Almost 80 percent of Edwards Wildman “partners” are non-equity.

Partner departures happen at all firms, especially in this age of increasing lateral movement. But do recent defections reflect larger issues at Edwards Wildman? A second source told us the following:

1. Partner profits in 2012 fell 17 percent short of budget.

2. Firm leaders, notwithstanding this result, awarded themselves six figure discretionary “bonuses” for their work.

3. “They are hemorrhaging lawyers, from various offices around the country. The biggest reason mentioned is….. not enough work.”

We reached out to the firm for comment. Here’s what an Edwards Wildman spokesperson shared:

Despite a persistently challenging environment for our clients and the legal industry, our firm has maintained its size and experienced only a modest drop in profitability. In 2012, we increased our partnership by two and had a net loss of just one associate. Excluding a small group of lawyers who recently left our office in West Palm Beach, seven partners and three counsel have joined the firm in 2013, while nine partners and one counsel have left. We are also in advanced discussions with a number of additional lateral hires. Furthermore, as reported to The American Lawyer, our profits per partner have declined six percent from 2011 to 2012, while revenue per lawyer in that period is flat. Finally, under a new firm-wide system rolled out in 2012, compensation for the firm’s leadership team was determined and approved by the firm’s Executive Board.

Readers, we’ll leave it to you to parse that statement. Some parts of it are what a litigator would call non-responsive, but other parts are worth noting.

In further defense of Edwards Wildman, we hear that investments in new technology and merger-related costs dragged down the firm’s financial results for 2012. And the firm is gaining lawyers as well as losing them. For example, in January it added John Yiu to its Hong Kong litigation practice. In February, it snagged John Fusco from Shipman & Goodwin. Last month, the L.A. office of Edwards Wildman picked up David Anderson, a videogame lawyer (yes, gamers turned lawyers, there’s your dream job). Additional hires are collected on the firm website.

So maybe 2013 will be a stronger year for Edwards Wildman. As the firm does some post-merger right-sizing, completes the integration of the two legacy firms, and adds partners in strategic offices and practice areas, its fortunes should improve. Right?

What are your thoughts on the past, present, and future of the post-merger Edwards Wildman? Will Mr. Edwards’s Wildman Ride end with laughter and joy, or with a crash? Drop us a line, by email or by text message (646-820-8477), if you have info to share.

Career Tracker: Lawyers on the move – April 3, 2013 [Thomson Reuters News & Insight]
Career Tracker: Lawyers on the move – March 19, 2013 [Thomson Reuters News & Insight]
Career Tracker: Lawyers on the move – March 15, 2013 [Thomson Reuters News & Insight]
Saul Ewing Expands Boston Office [Saul Ewing (press release)]
Squire Sanders Adds Veteran Partner to Real Estate Practice [Squire Sanders (press release)]
Videogame attorney joins Edwards Wildman’s IP group [Thomson Reuters News & Insight]
Edwards Wildman Palmer [American Lawyer (sub. req.)]
White & Case’s Madrid Launch Headlines Spate of New Office Openings [Am Law Daily (sub. req.)]
Eight attorneys leave Edwards Wildman [Daily Business Review (sub. req.)]
The Churn: Lateral Moves in the Am Law 200 [Am Law Daily (sub. req.)]
On the Move [The Recorder]
Edwards Wildman Hires Partner in Hong Kong [Asian Lawyer]

Earlier: Law Firm Merger Mania: Edwards Angell Merges With Wildman Harrold


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