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The $172 million Wal-Mart meal-break verdict won by The Furth Firm in 2005 was huge news � ranking among the top 10 verdicts nationally � but few of the lawyers will be around to celebrate if and when the money arrives. Only last August, founder Frederick Furth changed the firm name to Furth, Lehmann & Grant. Michael Lehmann, the office managing partner, had been with the firm for 30 years. And Jessica Grant played a key role in the Wal-Mart litigation, according to court documents. But the two lawyers didn’t stay long following Furth’s nod to their accomplishments. Grant left the firm this past April to join Taylor & Co., a San Francisco litigation boutique, to do primarily defense work. Lehmann took his exit Aug. 1 to help grow the San Francisco office of Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll. Several other lawyers have since left the firm, and none appear to have any guarantee of sharing in the eventual proceeds. None of them are voicing any complaints. Nor is Furth, who over his long career has produced a series of eye-popping verdicts with an ever-changing team of legal free agents. Lehmann, who did not work on the Wal-Mart case, declined to discuss his exact reasons for leaving. “I was satisfied with the compensation I got last year from The Furth Firm,” he said. Grant said that after working “literally nonstop for six years, seven days a week” on the Wal-Mart case, she was ready to take the next step in her career. She added that she didn’t have a written agreement detailing her share of any recovery. “I relied on certain things that Fred said.” Asked whether her departure means she has kissed any Wal-Mart fees good bye, Grant said: “I would never say that. We’ll see what happens.” Furth, the sole owner of the firm, said that salaries and bonuses are paid at his discretion, and no written compensation agreements exist for any cases. Furth said that he doles out “six-figure bonuses,” but he also said that when his lawyers “leave, you leave.” “I have had hundreds of lawyers, they get fabulous training and they get fabulous offers,” he said. “And they move on.” San Francisco attorney J. Michael Matthews, who represents lawyers in partnership matters, tells his plaintiff firm clients that compensation agreements are best made in writing, and they should include a clear set of compensation criteria with flexibility to account for adjustments, including recovery of a big fee, or a big loss. “Realizing a really big fee and being awash in money can be as big a problem for firm stability as not having enough if you don’t have a well-defined compensation agreement,” he said. EBB AND FLOW Alameda County Superior Court documents, where the Wal-Mart lunch breaks case was filed, show that the firm had logged more than 47,300 hours over nearly six years of what the firm described as “extensive hard-fought litigation.” Grant and two other Furth attorneys were listed as handling 60 percent of that work. Those two attorneys, Kimberly Richards and Ben Furth (Fred Furth’s son), had left the firm in 2003. Four months before Grant’s exit and half a year before Lehmann’s, an Oakland judge awarded fees totaling nearly $57 million last December. That money, however, is not yet in The Furth Firm’s bank account � Wal-Mart appealed to the First District Court of Appeal. Another Furth lawyer, Carolyn Burton, who had been appointed co-lead counsel in a Wal-Mart wage-and-hour case in Nevada, left the firm last November. Two more Furth lawyers, Karen Jones and Julio Ramos, left quietly in the last few weeks. Their departures bring the firm down to 11 lawyers from 16 last summer. At least two case assistants also departed recently. This isn’t the first time The Furth Firm has contracted due to a sudden outflow of lawyers. In 2000, the firm employed 20 lawyers and went by the name Furth, Fahrner & Mason, according to Martindale-Hubble records. By 2001, 10 attorneys � including one name partner � had moved on to other shops, according to the Martindale-Hubble directory. WINERY SATELLITE OFFICE Such shake-ups could be disastrous for a defense firm, but lawyers in the plaintiffs’ bar maintain that such fluctuation is normal. Class action lawyers say that the number of lawyers matters far less to a firm than court experience. Furth, who founded the firm in 1966, has a national reputation for landing multimillion-dollar antitrust class action verdicts. He has appointed litigator Henry Cirillo to take over the managing partner post as well as take over Lehmann’s cases for Furth. Cirillo will be co-interim counsel for the indirect purchasers in litigation over price fixing of graphic processing units before U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco; Lehmann will also continue to work on the case at his new firm. Cirillo, who spent 11 years at McCutchen, Doyle, Brown & Enersen before joining Furth in 2001, has served as co-trial counsel in the Tableware Antitrust litigation, which was tried this past June before U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker, which resulted in a defense verdict. Plaintiff lawyer Joseph Alioto worked with Cirillo on the Tableware case, and has begun to include Cirillo in his other cases. “I have great respect for his talent,” he said. Zelle Hoffman Voelbel Mason & Gette partner Francis Scarpulla said what matters most at a plaintiff firm is lawyers who inspire confidence among the judges who have the power to assign lead counsel in far-flung districts. “When two name partners leave and there’s a vacuum � that in my opinion can be a problem,” Scarpulla said. “I don’t think there’s going to be any kind of significant long-term impact on the firm as long as Fred and Hank Cirillo stay active in it.” Furth, who is in his 70s and described by Cirillo as semi-retired, splits his time between litigation, flights in his personal corporate jet, and his Sonoma winery estates. “I like to retire on Friday and then I un-retire on Monday,” Furth said. Asked for specifics, Furth added that he has cut his work schedule from 80-hour weeks to 60 hours. But Lehmann said that Furth wasn’t coming into the office much anymore. “I think it would be fair to say he isn’t actively practicing law in multiple cases since the conclusion of the Wal-Mart trial,” Lehmann said. Cirillo explained that the firm has a branch office at the Chalk Hill Estates Winery in Healdsburg. “I have announced my retirement annually and sometimes semi-annually, but I’m not retired,” Furth said over the telephone from Wichita, Kan., where he said he was updating his flight safety recertification and “meeting my client,” whom Furth declined to identify. “I talk to him regularly, he oversees a lot of the cases and he is very actively involved in the decisions about what cases we’re going to be involved in and how much they will cost,” Cirillo said. Furth says the firm is as strong as ever. “The Furth Firm is healthy, well and happy,” he said. “I sort of rewarded Mike and Jessica by putting their name on the firm, but the firm has always been The Furth Firm.”

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