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As The Weil Turns: Insights From Partner Departure Memos

Things have quieted down a bit on the Weil Gotshal front. About a week has passed since our last report on Biglaw’s biggest source of drama.

Today we have some news to share about WGM — information gleaned from partner departure memos out of Dallas, the site of the biggest defections, and a real estate report from New York, the King’s Landing of Weil Gotshal….

We broke the news of eight Weil partners in Dallas leaving for Sidley Austin on September 17. But the defectors didn’t join Sidley immediately; Weil decided to play hardball, holding them to the notice period specified in the partnership agreement.

The latest news is that the Weil-to-Sidley partners have finally joined Sidley, as reported yesterday by Law360 (sub. req.). Their bios are now on the Sidley website (see, e.g., Yvette Ostolaza and Angela Fontana). It looks like about a month passed since the Sidley-bound partners first gave notice to Weil, so it seems like the parties split the difference on the 60-day notice period. In addition, M&A partner R. Jay Tabor’s previously reported move to Gibson Dunn became effective yesterday, and Tabor’s bio is now on the GDC website as well.

Some of the departing Dallas partners sent around departure memos at Weil, which one source of ours described as “very gracious and kind.” A different tipster offered some interesting insights on the goodbye messages:

I think some of the farewell emails dispel some of the theories previously asserted why the partners left. For example, a couple of the farewell emails specifically reference Glenn [West], the managing partner of the office, and thank him for his efforts. Please note that Glenn was one of three attorneys to start the Dallas office, so he recruited and promoted all of the departing partners. The idea that the partners did not get along with Glenn, or that the Dallas office is hostile to women, just doesn’t make sense. How could we have had so many female partners if the office was hostile to women?

Out of the eight original Weil partners to make the move to Sidley (they were later joined by a ninth, Scott Parel), seven were women, representing all of Weil’s women partners in Dallas. This fact caused some observers to wonder if gender issues might have played a role — a theory that the departure memos belie, according to this source.

So if friction between Dallas partners or gender issues didn’t play a major role in driving the departures, what did? It’s a bit like Game of Thrones: tension between the capital and the hinterlands, or New York and non-New York offices. Said our source:

[O]ne of the farewell emails included the following quote: “Stephen Dannhauser had a vision of one firm where location was irrelevant and the matters would be handled by the best lawyers for the job.” As I am sure you are aware, Stephen Dannhauser is the former Executive Partner of the firm. Several people have indicated that since his departure, the firm has become more New York-centric and is attempting to model itself after some of the New York [capital markets firms]. In addition, [in the wake of the big June] layoffs, the firm even indicated that it was de-emphasizing litigation. I think it makes sense that the head of the CCL [complex civil litigation] group would think about leaving given these statements.

Despite the numerous departures, morale in the office is surprisingly good.

In short, it seems that Barry Wolf and the other firm leaders up in New York had one vision for Weil, and the Dallas defectors (and perhaps Dannhauser too) had another. And it wasn’t like Barry Wolf tried to conceal his vision for the firm; to paraphrase Justice Scalia’s favorite one-liner, as revealed in his recent New York magazine interview, “this [W]olf comes as a wolf.” So with the benefit of hindsight, the Dallas departures seem perfectly logical, even inevitable.

Speaking of Weil’s mother ship back in New York, we’re hearing that the firm is giving up two floors of its NYC office, relocating the personnel to different floors. This shouldn’t shock anyone, coming a few months after the firm laid off 60 associates and 110 staffers, some of them in New York. When firms conduct layoffs, they save not just on compensation costs but on real estate costs as well. As noted in yesterday’s Morning Docket (third link), “after employee compensation, real estate is the number one expense law firms incur.”

So that’s the latest episode of our favorite Biglaw soap opera, “As The Weil Turns.” If you’d like to contribute to a future episode, just email us or text us (646-820-8477). Until next time….

Weil Gotshal Loosens Hold On Departing Texas Partners [Law360 (sub. req.)]

Earlier: Prior ATL coverage of Weil Gotshal

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