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Right about now, Alfred Pepin Jr. must be savoring a cold dish of vindication-flavored ice cream — and who could blame him. After all, it has to be a supremely satisfying feeling to have been called out of retirement to help salvage your former law firm’s highest-profile client relationship, particularly after the firm unceremoniously dumped you as its leader. Pepin, who chaired Pillsbury Madison & Sutro before its merger with Winthrop, Stimson, Putnam & Roberts, confirmed Wednesday he’s joining Pillsbury Winthrop as of counsel. He’ll take a piece of Pillsbury’s much-vaunted and increasingly threatened ChevronTexaco work, likely with an eye toward patching up the relationship. Of course, in recent months, Pillsbury has protested that all is well with Chevron. Sure, the oil giant picked a general counsel from outside Pillsbury’s ranks for the first time since the Pleistocene era. And almost immediately, the new GC publicly — and pointedly — said the company was rethinking its billing relationships with outside counsel. Also worth ignoring, in Pillsbury’s view, is the defection of Robert Mittlestaedt — one of the firm’s chief Chevron handlers — to Jones Day. Jones Day just happened to be the law firm that produced the new GC. Nope, nothing to see there. Perhaps, despite public protestations to the contrary, Pillsbury’s leaders aren’t delusional. They’ve recognized a real problem with Chevron and have recruited Pepin to help fix it. It’s clear the firm needs a solid player with a long relationship with Chevron to ensure that a significant chunk of work doesn’t migrate with Mittlestaedt to Jones Day. It’s a move also likely to send the message to Chevron from Pillsbury: “We still care deeply about you.” Pepin was Pillsbury’s top Chevron biller for years and helped broker the merger between Chevron and Texaco in 2001. Partners enjoyed a multimillion-dollar festival of fees generated by Pepin’s merger work. They were less thrilled about his run as chairman. Pepin ran for reelection in 1998 and was dumped in favor of Mary Cranston, who at a law firm conference a few years later opined that Pepin “couldn’t manage his way out of a wet paper bag.” Pepin’s rule was described by partners as stodgy and stiff, with fiats issued by memo. Profits per partner climbed at the end of his tenure, but the firm seemed mired in the past compared to the fast-rising, tech-centric firms that were experiencing exponential profit and revenue gains in the mid and late ’90s. Even Pepin’s gold mine, Chevron, seemed like an anachronism — a big, institutional client that demanded enormous resources and discounts on fees. The punch line is that these days, partners at most Bay Area firms would chew off their right arms to get a client as steady as Chevron. So it’s not surprising that Pillsbury is now welcoming Pepin back into the fold. It’s the smart and necessary thing to do. As a firm spokeswoman told The Recorder on Wednesday: “We’re very happy, and enthusiastically embrace his return.” Of course they do. They have to. And how sweet that must taste to Al Pepin.

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