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Defections, merger talk at Powell Goldstein Problems are mounting for Powell Goldstein. The Atlanta-based firm recently lost a chunk of its health care practice group in Washington, and last week two partners and two counsel left the firm’s tax and business and finance practices. The 256-lawyer firm has been struggling to grow for years and faces increased competition from larger rivals in the Southeast. The firm may be looking for a merger partner. Sources say that Powell is in serious discussions with larger Southeast firm Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice. Such a union would create an 800-lawyer regional powerhouse with combined revenues of nearly $400 million. Powell Chairman James McAlpin Jr. emphasized his intention to transform Powell into “one of the leading Southeastern firms.” He would not comment on problems at the firm. Survey shows law firm leaders gloomy about ’08 Uncommonly downbeat managing partners nationwide expect a weak 2008 to bring fewer equity partner promotions, longer hours and higher rates, according to a new survey released last week. Conducted in the last months of 2007, Citi Private Bank’s Managing Partner Confidence Index found confidence had fallen for the fourth straight quarter of the year-old survey. Overall confidence fell by nearly 20% in 2007, dropping by larger amounts each quarter. Managing partners’ feelings on the economy as a whole � the survey’s macroeconomic index � fell by nearly 25% between the third and fourth quarter alone, and 40% for the year. ERISA, wage suits top workplace bias actions The value of U.S. settlements related to wage-and-hour disputes and those under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act was larger last year than those tied to employment discrimination for the first time in five years, the law firm Seyfarth Shaw said in an annual report on such class action litigation. The firm said in the report that the value of settlements under ERISA totaled $1.82 billion, with a few cases making a large contribution to that figure. The value included big settlements related to health care benefits sought in suits brought by retirees in the Rustbelt region. Judge says ethical issues in Vioxx pact resolved A federal judge overseeing a $4.85 billion settlement with Merck & Co. involving its withdrawn Vioxx painkiller expressed confidence on Jan. 18 that lawyers have resolved ethical concerns about the agreement. Some lawyers for Vioxx patients have challenged a provision of the settlement that bars attorneys with clients who participate in the deal from representing others who opt out. That could force lawyers to advise all or none of their clients to accept the agreement. U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon of New Orleans said lawyers have amended the November 2007 pact so that attorneys are directed to exercise their “independent judgment in the best interests of each client individually before recommending enrollment in the program.” Dechert latest to open a Hong Kong office Dechert has become the latest in a line of large firms entering the Asian market. The Northeast firm opened a Hong Kong office and established a formal association with Hwang & Co. under which it will be known as Dechert, in association with Hwang & Co. The new office will focus on private equity, venture capital and hedge fund formation and investing; capital-raising and sales of equity stakes through capital market offerings; cross-border mergers and acquisitions; and Asia-bound and outbound strategic and financial investments. Luce Forward rethinks its associate pay system As leaders at other law firms wearily wonder about the next round of raises, San Diego’s Luce, Forward, Hamilton & Scripps overhauled the traditional class-year salary system. The firm has created 14 levels of associate compensation that will be affected by productivity and practice area. On the new scale, a highly productive third-year in a high-rate practice could make more than a fifth-year in a less lucrative practice who is working fewer hours. And, in every level, associates who choose to work at the higher end of the productivity scale � 2,100 hours � can make salaries similar to their peers at large, national firms. For example, first-years will range from $145,000 at 1,950 hours to $165,000 for 2,100 hours. The exact determination will be made by the firm’s committee. Recruiters say the move is innovative, though some questioned if the adjustable pay scale would create a tier of second-class associates.

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