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After a steady stream of departures and office closings, Coudert Brothers has officially acknowledged what has been evident to many for months: The firm is breaking up. “After exploring various options, the partners of Coudert have authorized the firm to enter into combinations of offices and practice groups with other firms to reflect the strengths of the firm,” the firm said Thursday in a statement to Legal Times. “Such combinations will be done in an orderly process and announced over the next several weeks.” The Aug. 18 statement comes after a failed bid to merge the entire 460-lawyer firm with Baker & McKenzie, say former partners. That negotiation represented Coudert’s last hope at a firmwide merger, though several of the firm’s offices may eventually join Baker. In 2004 the firm tried and failed to merge with Squire, Sanders & Dempsey. A spokeswoman for Baker & McKenzie declined to comment on the status of any talks with Coudert.A pioneer in international corporate law, the once venerable firm has fallen on hard times in recent years. Of the 100 largest firms in America, Coudert ranked 99th in profitability in 2004, according to this year’s survey by The American Lawyer, a sister publication of Legal Times. The firm’s long, slow bleed hasn’t been pretty. In May, Coudert lost all of its London and Moscow partners to Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. That prompted an unusually public spat between the two firms, with Coudert retaining Simpson Thacher & Bartlett’s Barry Ostrager and threatening a lawsuit. Since 2000, the firm has closed eight offices and lost key partners in northern California, New York, and Europe. In Washington, its managing partner jumped ship, a top rainmaker was disbarred, and its head count shrunk by half to 18. Firmwide, Coudert has seen its number of lawyers dip from 630 in 2003 to 550 this spring to 464 at present.But as recently as April, the firm’s leadership was publicly optimistic about its future. “We will grow,” firm Chairman Clyde Rankin told Legal Times in April, citing potential opportunities in India and other developing countries. “We’ve got to be creative.”
Jason McLure can be contacted at [email protected], and Emma Schwartz can be contacted at [email protected].

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