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When the Legal Marketing Association holds its national awards ceremony in downtown San Francisco this afternoon, various agencies will be on hand in hopes that their branding and advertising efforts for law firms will take the year’s top honors. It could be a big day for Emeryville’s Bothwell Marketing, whose series of print advertisements for Skjerven Morrill is not only a finalist for an LMA award, but is also in the running for an American Advertising Federation “ADDY” award. Coincidentally, that awards ceremony is also taking place today at the nearby San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Skjerven Morrill, of course, announced its decision to shut down last month, squeezed by a glut of expensive real estate and the rough economy. But the great irony for Anne Bothwell, president of Bothwell Marketing, is that the work that’s now garnering awards from the ad industry is getting the cold shoulder from her former client. According to Bothwell, she’s still owed a significant chunk of money from Skjerven for the ads, one of which features the picture of a baby and instructions on how to properly pronounce the law firm’s Nordic-sounding name. “The joke at the office is that these may be the most expensive awards we will ever hang on the wall,” says Bothwell. Her case is illustrative of the plight that many law firm vendors face in the wake of Skjerven and Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison’s back-to-back closures last month. While the majority of the firms’ partners have already landed on their feet at new firms, some vendors are still waiting to find out if and when they’ll get paid for their work. Kelly Francis, the executive director of the staffing firm On Call Counsel, is still owed money for a contract attorney it had working at Brobeck. Francis wouldn’t say how many months of work the company is owed by Brobeck, but acknowledged that there was somewhat of a backlog. “We had worked with Brobeck for a long time, so we let it ride for a little bit,” says Francis of the receivables at issue. But she says she’s re-submitted her invoices to the firm’s dissolution committee and she still hopes to get paid. While Skjerven’s and Brobeck’s San Francisco landlords have both filed suit for unpaid rent, few vendors have filed claims at this point. Many, like Francis, are going through the process recommended by each firm’s wind-down committee. Representatives from Skjerven’s and Brobeck’s wind- down committees did not return calls regarding their vendor creditors. Animators at Law, a trial exhibit company, has done work for both Brobeck and Skjerven during the past two years. But according to CEO Kenneth Lopez, the company was fortunate in that it takes retainers for its work up front, and it did not have any ongoing jobs with either firm at the time of the shutdowns. “But I would guess that there are a lot of vendors on a pay-as-you-go basis, and that’s not a pretty place to be right now,” Lopez said. In some cases, vendors moved quickly and aggressively to protect their interests. According to one former Skjerven attorney, the photocopy equipment vendor marched into the firm’s San Jose office the day after the dissolution announcement and summarily began to haul off the supply of paper stock. The vendor also attempted to commandeer the copy machines but was somehow turned back by Skjerven’s staff. For Bothwell, Skjerven’s demise was such a surprise that there was little time to take proactive measures. Skjerven had been a client for more than two years and had never been slow to pay its bills. When Skjerven asked Bothwell Marketing to cancel its advertising placements, the firm explained that it was because they were in merger discussions. “We were totally blindsided,” says Bothwell. “It was a pretty rosy picture so we had no way of knowing that dissolution was a possibility.” After several unsuccessful attempts to contact the disbanding Skjerven about the money she was owed, Bothwell hired a lawyer. According to Bothwell, Skjerven’s attorneys now say they’ll be ready to make an offer to various vendors in the next few weeks. While the offer may not be for 100 percent of what Skjerven owes, Bothwell says vendors will have little choice but to accept it, since the only other option would be to enter into lengthy and expensive lawsuits. “They walked away but they’re still in charge,” says Bothwell. “It’s disappointing to see these lawyers apparently move on without having to live with the consequences. I, like other vendors, have to live with those consequences.”

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