To prevent you from jumping out your windows, we’re revisiting a Wall Street Journal article from earlier this month on the silver lining for law firms during the economic crisis.
Firms with relatively strong balance sheets are hiring lawyers from competitors that are hurting from the dropoff in mergers, debt offerings and other staples of the legal business. Leaders of these firms figure that being bigger and more geographically diverse will help them weather downturns in particular market sectors and capitalize on complex business opportunities that require a variety of specialties. In most cases, they’re even giving the new hires raises.
Some firms are buying on the cheap, while others are giving new attention to more resilient practice groups:
K&L Gates LLP has acquired medium-size firms in Texas and North Carolina this year and hired 45 partners from other firms. “We have no debt — no long-term debt, no short-term debt — and therefore have a balance sheet that allows us to grow aggressively into a downturn,” says Peter Kalis, chairman of the 1,700-lawyer firm…
But many law firms believe that they have no choice but to expand specialties, such as restructuring, intellectual property, securities litigation and antitrust, that are generally believed to remain steady — or even pick up — during down cycles. Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP in New York laid off 131 lawyers — nearly 20% of its staff — earlier this year because of the implosion in the mortgage-backed securities market, a key practice area for the firm. But it has hired lawyers in other practice areas, including financial restructuring.
It is with a great deal of regret that we write to inform you that we will not be able to pay you for work performed after today, Friday October 10 and, as a result, that your employment with the firm will be terminated today. We also expect that we will need to inform other employees over the following two weeks that we are unable to pay them any further and will need to terminate their employment. We do expect that we will be able to continue to pay some people for a longer period of time. Regular paychecks will be provided today but because of the volume of final paychecks we will need to prepare, it may take a few days to get your final paycheck to you. We know this is important to you but please be assured your colleagues in the Payroll Department will be working as hard and as quickly as they can to get you your paycheck.
These actions have been forced upon us by the two banks — Citibank and Bank of America — that control our ability to make any payments. Generally, they have refused to pay employees who we cannot convince them are necessary (as they define it) for the wind down efforts. We understand how upsetting this news is. You should continue your activities to serve clients, including, where applicable, to bill your time. Time billing and client service are two of the criteria the banks are examining in our continuing negotiations with them to maintain an orderly transition.
We want to thank you for your professionalism and forbearance to date and ask you to continue to proceed with the same degree of professionalism you have demonstrated during your valuable service to the firm and to its clients.
When Heller Ehrman dissolved in late September, associates and employees were informed via a firm-wide email.
Since then, Heller management has had email communication with employees, but (to our knowledge) they have not revealed their official dissolution plan.
We got our hands on the 43-page operating document. In addition to a detailed discussion of the firm’s balance sheet, the plan lists the firm’s priorities during the dissolution. One priority is to preserve and protect the firm’s assets “for the benefit of, first, the creditors, … and thereafter the Shareholders of the firm and the former Shareholders of the firm.”
The full dissolution plan can be downloaded below. Check it out and see what interesting nuggets you find.
If any Heller Ehrman attorneys were hoping that a major firm would sweep in and hire a whole bunch of Hellerites, the Dissolution Committee is warning you not to hold your breath. The Recorder reports:
On Tuesday, Peter Benvenutti, the chairman of the dissolution committee now controlling the firm, confirmed whispers that Baker & McKenzie and Winston & Strawn, both one-time merger candidates, had withdrawn proposals to pick up large groups of lawyers and their expensive real estate. While Benvenutti would not say whether deals on this scale are being discussed with any other firms, he did say there’s interest in taking over certain of the firm’s leases, and “we expect to have clarity in a day or two.”
At this point, why would Baker or Winston Strawn take on expensive lawyers when they can just sit back and cherry pick the superstars they want? We haven’t heard any story of a Heller rainmaker saying “If I come, these 30 people are coming with me.”
Heller Ehrman continues to stave off involuntary bankruptcy, despite not being able to pay employees their accrued vacation time. But Heller’s breakup continues to take weird twists.
The latest bizarre news comes from Seattle, where some associates have wondered whether they are about to be evicted from their offices. Tension was so high that Heller management had to send around a clarification email:
TO ALL HANDS (SEATTLE):
I have heard various rumors in the hallways to the effect that the Seattle office will close imminently and therefore that everyone needs to move out pronto. To clarify, here is the status.
The landlord has not issued a notice to vacate. If such a notice were issued, the notice period would be ten days. For reasons too long to explain, we overpaid rent throughout 2008. When those overpayments came to our attention, the firm asked that they be applied to cover (completely) the October rent obligation. The landlord has since asserted that the overpayments instead should be applied toward a fee that was due in connection with our give-back of space on 58. The Dissolution Committee is working with our outside counsel and communicating with the landlord to hopefully resolve this issue, and to clarify with the landlord any issues relating to removal of property from our space. To the best of my knowledge, closure of this office is not imminent and the date of closure remains to be determined, based on the pace of collections versus ongoing costs and also based on the banks’ decisions about what spending they will approve.
A law firm on the edge of solvency “overpaid” their rent? We hope that the explanation for this oversight is too long and difficult to get into, but we wonder if it is just too embarrassing.
Associates that we are speaking to say that it is just starting to sink in that they will be out of a job soon. Hopefully the Seattle associates will get as much time as possible to come to grips with this reality, instead of showing up at the office one day only to find locks on the door.
Update: The Blog of the LegalTimes reports that Arnold & Porter has picked up the latest Heller refugees. The big fish is Kenneth Chernof, Heller’s managing partner in the D.C. office. Any associates coming along for the ride?
This won’t come as a galloping shock to the pessimists out there, but Heller Ehrman is not going to pay out the accrued vacation time of their associates and staff. The disappointed employees were told today via a firm-wide email:
On behalf of the Dissolution Committee:
To Our Employees:
The Dissolution Committee is sending this message to keep interested employees as informed as possible of relevant developments. A number of people have raised questions about accrued vacation pay payable upon termination. We regret to inform you that the banks’ which now control our ability to write checks — Bank of America and Citibank — have informed us that we may not pay terminating employees for accrued vacation. This decision was made despite our strenuous, repeated efforts to convince the banks otherwise.
We will continue to seek the banks’ permission to pay these amounts as soon as possible. The Dissolution Committee did obtain the banks oral permission to fund the payroll due next Friday in all other respects. We are now awaiting their written confirmation, which we expect to receive later today.
We sincerely regret that the banks are preventing us from paying our terminating employees the full amount to which they are entitled at this time. We wish it were otherwise, and we will continue to press the banks to change their position.
The Dissolution Committee
As we’ve discussed before, the banks really do have the ultimate authority when it comes to these situations. However, Heller made many protestations in the immediate aftermath of the dissolution that associates and staff would be paid all that they were owed.
Is “orderly dissolution” a thing of the past? Hellerites weigh in after the jump.
While law firms try to cherry pick Heller Ehrman’s departing attorneys, some companies are also trying to pick up Heller Ehrman’s business.
But there is a way to be decent about these things. The people at VentureSource might need to brush up on their etiquette. The venture capital resource group sent out the following email to many of their subscribers, including some people who are still affiliated with Heller Ehrman:
Heller Erman[sic] dissolved its practice last week. This week, dozens of venture capital firms and portfolio companies may be in search of new legal representation.
See all the clients–including their financial details and key contacts–available in VentureSource. You can also use the database to spot other potential clients in every industry and region in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Israel and China.
Don’t wait: Call me at [redacted] or send me an e-mail to subscribe to VentureSource or set up a personal demonstration.
Position Your Business to Benefit from the Fall of Heller (& Others)
Verily, the funeral baked meats did coldly furnish forth the marriage table.
Cooley Godward Kronish LLP announced today that 15 partners from Heller Ehrman will join the Firm. Ten partners will join Cooley in Silicon Valley, four in Seattle, where Cooley will open an office, and one in Washington, DC. In addition to comprising the core of Heller’s Venture Law Group (VLG) in these offices, the partners joining Cooley include the heads of Heller’s firm-wide business and intellectual property transactions practices, the co-heads of its energy and clean technology practice, the co-chair of its life sciences practice and two VLG co-founders.
Heller receives an apology from VentureSource after the jump.
It’s been a few days since we checked in on the slow breakup of Heller Ehrman. But today brings news of a coveted partner picking his soft landing. The Daily Journal reports:
Top antitrust litigator Robert G. Badal will be departing Heller Ehrman for Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr’s Los Angeles office, which he plans to join as a partner on Friday.
Badal is Heller’s first Los Angeles partner to publicly confirm that he is leaving the troubled firm since it began its dissolution last week.
Badal, also an intellectual property litigator, was vague about whether he is bringing other Heller attorneys with him. … “There may be a few people from Heller that might join Wilmer over time,” Badal said.
Badal called Heller’s dissolution “regrettable” and said that he chose Wilmer Hale because of its strong Asia practice.
After the jump we see if Heller associates and staff can get some soup.
It’s official: Heller Ehrman is dissolving. We have no desire to pile on, but major firms don’t close their doors everyday.
So, how does the dissolution process work exactly?
The first thing Heller is required to do by law is to give notice to all their employees under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN). Heller complied with this requirement this afternoon:
I regret to inform you that The Firm has adopted a plan of liquidation and will shut down substantially all of its operations on or about November 28, 2008. At the time of the shutdown, the employment of The Firm’s employees will be permanently terminated. Until then, please be aware that The Firm has work for you and expects you to report to work. Employees will be paid full salary and benefits until the shutdown. Where applicable, employees with accrued but unused vacation time may be scheduled for vacation prior to November 28.
You do not have displacement or bumping rights for other positions within The Firm. However, in order to conduct an orderly liquidation, The Firm may continue to employ a very limited number of employees after the date of the shutdown. If you wish to be considered for such work, please notify me by email; The Firm will let you know about past November 28 work within the next few days.
This letter constitutes notice to you pursuant to statute. As a terminated employee, you may be entitled to certain benefits, which will be the subject of a separate communication. The shutdown is being treated as a plant closing under relevant law, and includes the termination of employment of employees employed at 333 Bush Street, San Francisco, California 94104.
In the event you require additional information, please feel free to contact [redacted]
Additional analysis of Heller’s breakup, after the jump.
Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past seven years. You can reach them by email: email@example.com.
It’s that time of year again when JDs are starting to apply for 2L summer jobs and 2L summers are deciding which practice area to focus on.
For those JDs with an interest in potentially lateraling to or transferring to Asia in the future, please feel free to reach out to Kinney for advice on firm choices, interviewing and practice choices, relating to future marketability in Asia, or for a general discussion on your particular Asia markets of interest. This is of course a free of cost service for those who some years in the future may be our future industry contacts or perhaps even clients.
For some years now Kinney’s Asia head, Evan Jowers, has been formally advising Harvard Law students with such questions, as the Asia expert in Harvard Law’s “Ask The Experts Market Program” each summer and fall, with podcasts and scheduled phone calls. This has been an enjoyable and productive experience for all involved.
Whether you’re fresh off the bar exam or hitting your stride after hanging a shingle a few years ago, one thing’s for certain: independent attorneys who start a solo or small-law practice live with a certain amount of stress.
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But that’s nothing compared to the constant, nagging, real-life kind, the kind you get from the day-to-day grind of being a law-abiding attorney.
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