My old firm is dying today. I spent almost 8 years working there (from wide-eyed days as a first year associate all the way up to jaded senior associate status) and I have warm feelings for the people who worked there and for the culture that they created there. The firm made a pretty big mistake taking on a tax partner in Chicago who was giving out questionable opinions. And it paid the ultimate price for that decision.
I guess what is interesting to me about the situation is that my old firm was not some renegade actor, doing anything out-of-line from industry practice. Some other firms that you may have heard of, such as Sidley Austin and Shearman & Sterling, were issuing pretty much the same opinions at the same time. And making a lot of money off of them. In my opinion, there were two things that brought my firm down and left the other players in that market standing strong: (i) the Chicago partner was a bit of a bad actor, in the eyes of the IRS, and I think they picked his firm out because they liked the idea of sticking it to him (he made an unbelievable amount of money off these tax opinions and, according to some, he was a bit of a market leader in the area) and (ii) the firm was not Big Enough to withstand the press hit and the eventual hit to the pocketbook. Yes, size matters.
So lawyers fled. Including me. And including many of the heavy hitters who were recent additions to the firm (no, sadly (or not), I am not a heavy hitter) and who had no qualms about shopping themselves around (after collecting the boom year bonuses that resulted from the tax practice opinions, of course).
A lot of people have looked on with glee as one of the big name firms in Dallas collapsed. These people include former employees who felt wronged when the firm had layoffs (as all the big firms did in 2002-03) and former competitors of the firm in its heyday who are happy to lose the competition. I just feel sad for the loss. The loss of the excitement we all once had when the firm was trying to become a national player and the loss of the reputation of a firm full of good, smart lawyers.
I wish my former co-workers luck and success wherever they end up. I'm sure working at the firm for the last year or so has been no walk in the park.
[Note: I intentionally did not use the name of the firm in this blog because I don't particularly want to pop up in google searches of the subject. Just in case you were wondering.]