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When Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison announced in January that it was shutting its doors, the initial focus was on the firm’s partners. Many of these previously well-heeled lawyers suddenly found themselves in an unfamiliar place � the unemployment line. But what about the clients of the San Francisco firm? A lot was at stake for them too. Of the few companies willing to talk about their dilemma, most refused to admit to any worries. The superficial sangfroid, however, seemed to mask a palpable unease. Now that Brobeck was gone for good, clients were faced with an unpleasant choice: either follow their lead lawyers to new firms or, well, gamble on someone else. Even if businesses stuck with their Brobeck partners, however, they still had to cope with the loss of associates and paralegals � the employees most familiar, in many instances, with a client’s matters. The dilemma was a completely unexpected one for clients, since in its 77-year history, Brobeck had been a model of success and stability. At its peak in 2001, under the leadership of hard-charging chairman Tower Snow, Jr., the firm employed almost 800 lawyers worldwide; profits per partner were close to $1 million. But after Snow’s May 2002 departure and the nasty infighting that followed, the firm gradually disintegrated. Brobeck’s collapse left a lot of big clients in the lurch. Several, like Cisco Systems, Inc., and Sun Microsystems, Inc., were using the firm to handle ongoing M&A and litigation matters. And all of them � an august collection that included ChevronTexaco Corporation, Bank of America Corporation, and UAL Corporation � trusted Brobeck as an institution they could turn to whenever they had a problem. No Comment, But Lots Of Anxiety Very few clients would talk about the Brobeck dissolution head-on. Of 17 contacted, only three would give on-the-record comments about their post-Brobeck plans. But James Tune thinks he knows what they’re going through. As chairman of Bogle & Gates, he oversaw the dissolution of that Seattle firm four years ago. “Trust me, clients are anxious and unnerved,” says Tune, now a partner in the Seattle office of Portland, Oregon’s Stoel Rives. “They don’t feel comfortable talking because, in a lot of cases, there’s no way they can know how this is all going to play out. And that’s a scary thing for an in-house department.” The few Brobeck clients that would talk said mostly the same thing � the firm’s explosion wouldn’t cause an interruption in business as usual. Take Cisco, which, according to one ex-Brobeck partner, was the firm’s sole eight-figure client in 2002. “We’re not too worried about it,” says a Cisco spokesperson. “We’re confident that Cisco’s legal work will continue to get done and get done well.” Of course, that statement contains more than a kernel of truth. In mid-February, Cisco’s lead litigator, Franklin Brockway (“Brock”) Gowdy, announced that he and close to 60 other former Brobeck partners were moving to the new San Francisco office of Philadelphia’s Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. Cisco GC Mark Chandler declined to comment on his company’s future hiring plans. But according to one ex�Brobeck partner, Gowdy’s move to Morgan, Lewis was likely contingent upon Chandler’s approval. “Brock would only go somewhere that Chandler said he could go,” the lawyer said. “So it’s safe to assume that Cisco feels comfortable with what Morgan, Lewis has to offer.” Though a familiar face will likely handle the bulk of Cisco’s litigation matters, in February the company announced that it would start sending most of its corporate work to Fenwick & West. Gordon Davidson, a corporate partner and chairman of the firm, has known two Cisco board members for several years. While many clients have been anxiously wondering where their ex�Brobeck partners will end up, others are equally worried about the loss of junior people. Associates, for example, routinely work for several partners at a time and, as a result, develop a multitude of client contacts. So as associates follow small groups of partners to new firms, they usually have to sever many client relationships in the process. Associates “often possess as much knowledge of a client’s legal work as many partners,” says consultant Bradford Hildebrandt. “Losing an especially good associate can be a big blow.” The head of Somerset, New Jersey�based Hildebrandt International wouldn’t comment specifically on the Brobeck situation. But he’s an expert on law firm dissolutions, having consulted on the collapse of Bogle & Gates and the 1994 failures of Lord Day & Lord, Barrett Smith and Shea & Gould, both New York�based firms. The loss of paralegals can be just as bad, if not worse, says Michael Morris, a senior vice president and special counsel at Sun Microsystems. At the time of Brobeck’s big bang, Sun was using only one partner at the firm � Jeffrey Kingston, a San Francisco�based attorney who was handling the European component of Sun’s antitrust battle with Microsoft Corporation. Kingston recently joined Morgan, Lewis, and will continue to handle Sun’s litigation. But Kingston’s work required considerable help from Brobeck paralegals. “In some ways, paralegals drive litigations,” Morris says. “They often have the best working knowledge of the [litigation] databases, and they typically understand how the documents are organized better than anyone else on a team.” The thought of so many Brobeck paralegals getting their walking papers scares Morris: “God only knows where a lot of them are going to end up. We just hope enough of them are around to help us extract our files before they padlock the doors.” With additional reporting by Renee Deger.

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