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Time may heal all wounds, but it may take an awfully long time for the animus surrounding the collapse of Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison to dissipate. As the San Francisco firm’s liquidation continues, so does the finger-pointing. Partners have yet to take up the litigation cudgel against each other, but the subject has certainly been discussed. In fact, in the past few months there’s been an effort by Brobeck’s liquidation committee to recruit some ex-Brobeck staffers to join a possible assault against former Chairman Tower Snow Jr. and his current firm, Clifford Chance. Whether the committee, headed by former Chairman Stephen Snyder, will end up suing Snow is uncertain. But one approach that’s been discussed has raised questions about its wisdom — and legality. In May, Snyder called a meeting with roughly 20 senior staffers now employed by Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, according to a staffer who communicated with at least one person in attendance. Roughly 150 Brobeck lawyers, including Snyder, and 150 staff workers, landed at Morgan, Lewis after Brobeck announced in late January that it would disband. Most of the secretaries, librarians and paralegals invited to attend had worked for Brobeck for nearly 20 years. During that meeting, held in a Morgan, Lewis conference room, each staffer received a four-page “Assignment and Release” form. The complex document, obtained by Recorder affiliate The American Lawyer magazine, offered the workers the chance to join a potential suit against Snow, former Managing Partner James Burns Jr. and Clifford Chance. (Snow, Burns, and 15 other Brobeck partners defected to the London-based firm last year after Brobeck expelled Snow.) Claims could include breach of fiduciary duty, unfair competition, and other “conduct which contributed to financial distress and liquidation of [Brobeck],” the document states. Snow declined to comment. But jumping on this litigation wagon would carry a price for the staffers. They would have to waive any claims against Brobeck for lost wages or benefits, the document stated. These claims would include unpaid sums from profit-sharing accounts and 401(k) administrative fees that Brobeck failed to pay last year and that were taken out of workers’ accounts. Snow, who led Brobeck from 1998 to 2001, was no longer at Brobeck when the firm skipped these payments. Seeking that kind of release, however, might have given Brobeck critics some ammunition. “This is a violation of the state labor code,” says Mark Thierman, who represents nearly 50 other former Brobeck staffers who are suing Brobeck and Morgan, Lewis. The Reno lawyer points out that California’s labor code prohibits employers from asking workers to waive earned wages. Otherwise, employers might pressure workers to forgo earned pay in order to keep their jobs. (Thierman’s clients are suing the firms under the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, alleging that Brobeck failed to give workers required notice of the firm’s closure and that Morgan, Lewis is liable as the firm’s successor.) Snyder says he doesn’t think this agreement violates the labor code. “These people are facing an insolvency situation where I don’t know what their chances will be for a full recovery of their claims. I would like to give them the opportunity to do better,” he says. “Nobody’s told me there’s anything wrong with � giving them this option.” It’s one question whether these releases would be valid. It’s another question whether it’s wise to get staffers riled up to sue the people responsible for Brobeck’s collapse. If they start pointing fingers at individuals in management, they could set their sights on those who led the firm at the end and failed to pay the administrative fees for their 401(k) accounts. That could include Brobeck’s final policy committee, led by ex-Chairman Richard Odom, and others now at Morgan, Lewis. Susan Beck is a senior writer for The American Lawyer, a Recorder affiliate based in New York.

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