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Tower Snow Jr., Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison’s charismatic chairman, announced on Wednesday that he would not seek re-election when his term ends in December. In a firmwide e-mail, Snow — who has famously pledged that the firm would not lay off associates on his watch — said that he and Managing Partner James Burns Jr. would be stepping down at the end of the year. San Francisco-based Brobeck will announce a new chairman the first week of December. Snow left for a 10-day vacation Wednesday and could not be reached for comment. Burns also was unavailable for comment. Snow’s departure is an ominous one for associates at the firm. Though partners still with the firm aren’t talking, former partners and partners at competing firms for weeks have speculated that the pledge would erode support for Snow, who helped drive firm profits above $1 million last year. With a few exceptions, Brobeck’s major West Coast competitors have formally laid off associates. Others, including Brobeck, have tightened “performance standards” to thin the ranks. The question has been whether it’s “the right strategic choice not to lay off people,” said one associate at the firm. “I think the common feeling [among partners] is that it’s not wise.” But Snow has viewed the matter differently — at least before Wednesday. “Even if there was a dramatic slowdown, we would protect our people,” he said in May 2000, adding that partners would absorb the cost. This summer, he said, “We’re protecting our people. We clearly will take a hit to our profits this year.” The question now, then, is whether his announcement clears the way for a flurry of pink slips. To choose Snow’s replacement, a group of 20 partners will poll members and present a slate of candidates to a joint session of the policy and operations committees. Those committees in turn will recommend one candidate for the partnership’s approval. One partner mentioned as a possible successor is Richard Odom, leader of Brobeck’s complex litigation group. His resum� at Brobeck is in stark contrast to Snow’s. Based in the firm’s Los Angeles office, Odom has been with Brobeck for almost his entire career. He joined the firm in 1969 after graduating from Stanford Law School. He had a one-year stint as a legal officer with the Army in 1970. And he jumped to Howrey & Simon in 1996 but returned to Brobeck the following year. Snow, meanwhile, took the helm at Brobeck in January 1998 after just three years with the firm. A lateral from the San Francisco office of New York’s Shearman & Sterling, he was a star securities litigator. Prior to joining Shearman he had a 16-year tenure at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. As chairman of Brobeck, Snow drove profits dramatically higher with a huge bet on the technology economy, calling Brobeck a “tech firm.” He was a dynamic leader who never tired of sketching his vision for the firm, the technology sector, and the changing global market for legal services. And he made no secret of his desire to put his West Coast firm on an equal footing with New York powerhouses. He’s gone a long way toward reaching that goal. Brobeck led San Francisco Bay Area firms in revenue and profits in 2000, pulling in $476 million in gross revenue and average profits per partner of $1.17 million. The firm’s phenomenal growth — it hired 210 attorneys during one eight-month stretch at the peak of the boom — was driven by a wave of work from tech clients. Since last spring, however, the economy has spiraled downward and Brobeck and other tech-focused firms have not had enough work to keep their associates busy. The issue of layoffs isn’t the only issue that may have rankled partners. In Snow’s bid to drive up profits, former partners say, he’s steered the ship with a firm, if not iron, hand. In fact, a group of partners sought to replace Snow as chairman when his first term expired at the end of 1999. They backed J. Michael Shepherd, who left Brobeck in January to become general counsel of the Bank of New York. Maximizing profits per partner “was sort of the only thing that mattered” under Snow’s leadership, said one former partner. “That affects relationships between partners down through the associate ranks.” He cited Snow’s policy of withholding a portion of partners’ paychecks if they fail to collect bills at the end of the month. He said partners were also docked if associates were late in submitting their time sheets. Other former partners say Snow centralized decision-making and stripped some day-to-day autonomy away from practice group managers. “The latitude partners had was taken away and institutional processes put in place, like needing to get permission for writing off things or taking on earlier stage clients without retainers,” a former partner said. Asked earlier this week whether the partnership was discontented with Snow’s leadership, John Hilson, managing partner of the Los Angeles office, was dismissive. Any disputes were routine, he said. “There are 207 partners, all of whom are accomplished lawyers,” Hilson said. “If you get a group of them in the room you will at least have three points of view.”

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