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The wheels that led to George Schieren’s January exit from Merrill Lynch & Co., Inc., were set in motion many months ago, when the senior in-house attorney was passed over for the bank’s GC post. Schieren lands on his feet this month, joining the New York office of Clifford Chance as a partner. But he admits he’s still “disappointed” about being turned down for the top spot at Merrill. Really? It’s hard to imagine why anyone would want such a pressure-cooker job. After all, these are difficult days all over Wall Street, and Merrill has been hit harder than almost any other investment firm. Amid the global economic slowdown, revenue at the bank is down, and cost cutting is up. Its legal woes are numerous. Last year Merrill paid $100 million to end an investigation led by New York State attorney general Eliot Spitzer into conflicts of interest among its research analysts. Merrill still faces some 100 investor lawsuits related to allegations that Henry Blodget — its former star Internet analyst — publicly touted certain stocks while deriding them in private. The USA Patriot Act, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, and other new laws are also forcing the bank’s attorneys to work overtime. Musical Chairs Everywhere Merrill is not alone. Turmoil on Wall Street has produced not just rank-and-file job losses, but turnover at the highest levels. In late January, Citigroup Inc. hired Michael Helfer as GC, wooing him away from Nationwide Financial Services, Inc. For more than a year Citigroup’s law department has been run jointly by Stephanie Mudick and Joan Guggenheimer, both of whom remain at the company. And last year Credit Suisse First Boston bid adieu to GC David Brodsky, who joined the New York office of Latham & Watkins. Brodsky, for one, isn’t looking back. “It’s absolutely the worst” time to be a Wall Street in-house lawyer, he maintains, citing long hours, increasing layoffs, and declining pay. Merrill’s lawyers aren’t immune to those pressures. Through a combination of retirements, departures, and transfers to other departments, the bank’s in-house crew now numbers about 260 lawyers, down from 300-plus in the late 1990s. GC Rosemary Berkery (who beat out Schieren for the top legal post in 2001) is now in the midst of a strategic review of both her department and the bank’s outside counsel. While she says she’s focusing on the quality of work done by both inside and outside attorneys, she also hopes to pare down her law firm roster by 25 percent. The GC expects to complete the review this month and says, “I fully expect to lower [our] overall legal expenses.” Still, despite the belt-tightening, Berkery insists that now is actually a great time to be working on Wall Street — and at Merrill in particular. “The work is enormously challenging, and [our] businesses have gotten fascinating for lawyers at all levels,” she says. Yet for all her cheerleading, even Berkery admits that a better economy would help things immeasurably. “Would I like to be in the twelfth or thirteenth year of a bull market?” she asks. “Absolutely.”

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