Friday, March 30, 2007

Fond Farewell

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.]


Anonymous said...

If you didn't include Jenkens & Gilchrist's name in order to prevent this tripe from popping up on Google searches - why did you include disparaging and unfounded allegations against Sidley and S&S? Perhaps a sign of the lack of judgment your old firm relied upon to its ultimate detriment?

Leila said...

Fascinating response. I wasn't not posting my firm's name to spare it any sort of embarrassment. As you might imagine, it has had all of that that can be had. I avoided mentioning its name because I used to work there, and I didn't particularly want my personal blog to come up on random searches of its name. But because you want to push this, I note that Sidley was a codefendant with Jenkens, so if it is alarming for you to have its name mentioned in the same breath as Jenkens, you might want to do a bit of introspection. Because "Jenkens" could have just have easily been synonymous with "Sidley". Nothing that I have said is controversial or sanderous. They all did it. That is not in dispute. Sidley and Shearman are merely examples. There are more.

Anonymous said...

You're too kind. That wasn't a fascinating response.

I'm all for sticking it to corporate defendants who deserve it, but in this case, or that of Arhur Andersen or Milberg Weiss, it's a little hard for me to believe that the wrongdoing warrants a death sentence for the whole firm.


Transplanted Lawyer said...

T.S., felony convictions for entity defendants frequently (always?) mean revocation of the corporate franchise. Those are hard to get; the prosecution must prove not just that there were some bad apples in the bunch but rather that there was a policy in place that was intended to violate a law. Enron would have loved to have argued that Ken Lay and his buddies should have taken the rap and the company allowed to restructure and resume operations. But there was no love from the courts there, and appropriately so.

Anonymous said...

Why "appropriately so?" Even if a very large corporation has such a policy in place, it may still be the case that most of its employees were doing nothing illegal.

Transplanted Lawyer said...

So what? If the corporation itself is bad, it needs to go. Good behavior is a condition of the privilege of doing business as a corporation; it has been so since the days of Queen Elizabeth I.

If your concern is the welfare of the honest employees, bear in mind that they can and will find new jobs. Here', we're talking about a law firm dissolving. I haven't exactly noticed a shortage of lawyers that are ready, willing, and able to pick up the business and talented personnel shed off by their competitors, whether during good times or bad.