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San Francisco’s Morrison & Foerster even has a slogan to describe the firm’s culture — “the MoFo difference.” The message to its attorneys and the outside world? MoFo is no factory. The firm is a humane place to practice. Lawyers work as a team, are committed to pro bono work and emphasize diversity. But as the firm has grown and the emphasis on profits has spiraled along with it, partners and associates are wondering if the firm’s much-vaunted culture will remain intact. Longtime partners acknowledge the firm isn’t quite as easygoing as it used to be. They contend MoFo has had to adjust — law is a business, and a tough one at that. Nevertheless, many say the firm still has a softer edge than many of its competitors and continues to stress its traditional values. The firm, for example, remains among the nation’s top 10 in pro bono work, according to the recent AmLaw 100 survey by The American Lawyer magazine. “Every year since I’ve been an associate here, there have been those who say ‘The sky is falling,’” said partner Harold McElhinny, who has been with the firm since the mid-1970s. “There is always a group that says if we do this, MoFo culture will [be destroyed] and another group that says ‘the MoFo difference’ died 15 years ago.” McElhinny says he believes the firm’s positive culture is evidenced in “the submission of ego, consensus of politics, support of pro bono” within the firm. But MoFo has changed significantly. In the early 1990s, “We had to face up to our need to be more businesslike,” said 35-year MoFo veteran Melvin Goldman. Improving the firm’s financial base was “more important than in the decades before.” As part of that effort, the firm eliminated its sabbatical program seven or eight years ago. Attorneys had been able to take sabbaticals five years after becoming a partner. Every seven years thereafter they received additional sabbatical time. Partners’ billable hours also have increased. In the past, after five years as a partner, attorneys were not expected to bill beyond 1700 hours so they would have time for business development. Now partners bill more than 1900 hours. Despite the firm’s greater emphasis on the bottom line and the increased pace of work, MoFo has a good track record retaining partners. This year, the firm lost a handful of partners in the Bay Area, primarily to in-house positions. Four partners also became judges. But like other firms, MoFo is struggling with associate attrition, which the firm says has been about 20 percent for the last several years. “I really worry about the people who are entering the practice today,” McElhinny said. In order to pay competitive salaries, the firm expects lawyers to work long hours, he added. “I don’t know if it’s possible to work that hard for 15 or 20 years.” Inevitably, pressure to bill hours will affect the firm’s culture. Some partners say it is dissuading associates from taking on pro bono assignments. “I think we really get hurt by the view that we’re a caring, wonderful place,” said one partner who spoke on the condition of anonymity. People come here and are “surprised to find it’s a business.” However, the partner added, “I do believe Morrison & Foerster is as good as it gets. There’s nowhere you could go where it would be better.”

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