The firm's election process consists of a survey of the partnership by the firm's policy committee, which then recommends a candidate to the partnership, which votes whether to confirm the candidate. In recent weeks, that process failed to turn up a clear majority winner according to a former partner and a recruiter.
Both said it is likely that the policy committee will soon, possibly this week, recommend to the partnership that Culvahouse be re-elected. Such recommendations are typically ratified, and they said they expected the partnership would ratify Culvahouse, even though a majority of partners initially supported other candidates.
Those other candidates are former San Francisco Managing Partner Darin Snyder; Los Angeles partner Robert Siegel, the chairman of the adversarial department; Newport Beach, Calif., partner Gary Singer, a co-chairman of the firm's transactions department; and Washington, D.C., partner John Beisner, chairman of the class actions, mass torts and aggregated litigation practice.
Culvahouse has been chairman since 2000 and is completing his second four-year term. There is no term limit on firm chairpersons.
Snyder would not comment until a decision was made and the rest, including Culvahouse, did not respond to messages left Wednesday afternoon. A firm spokeswoman would only say that "the process hasn't concluded yet."
Another recruiter, L. William Nason, of L.A.'s Watanabe Nason Schwartz & Lippman, said there is no single reason for discontent at O'Melveny. "If you talk to 25 different people, you'd get 25 different expressions of concern," he said.
Nason said it's likely that, if management did change, "there will be pressure to increase profitability considering that as well as they've done in the last five years, they have nevertheless not done quite as well when compared to their three major competitors in California: Gibson, Latham and Paul Hastings."
Between 2005 and 2007, O'Melveny's profit per equity partner increased from $1.5 million to $1.6 million. Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher saw an increase from $1.6 million to $1.9 million. Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker's profits jumped to $1.9 million from $1.2 million, while Latham's soared from $1.4 million to $2.3 million.
According to the former partner and the recruiter, Culvahouse led the field of five candidates with about one-third of the informal vote.
Former partners say the profit numbers and a geographical culture shift have led to dissatisfaction. As the firm has expanded, there was necessarily more emphasis placed on growth in offices outside of L.A., one former partner said. "The economic performance of the firm has been flat; there's an East-West divide between the partners on each coast; and there's a perceived breakdown of the traditional values of collegiality and transparency, and people blame Culvahouse," said one former partner.
"There was a lot of resentment that the L.A. office was no longer the center of the universe," said another former partner who had worked in Los Angeles.