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Eighty-two associates at San Francisco-based Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison have taken the firm up on its offer of severance pay to leave their jobs. Brobeck announced last month that it would pay associates in the business and technology group a lump sum equal to their base pay through April 15 if they left the firm. The so-called “separation incentive program” was open to associates who were on target to bill less than 1,300 hours by the end of the year. The deadline for applying for the package was Friday. About 130 of the 265 associates in the business and technology group were eligible for the program, said firmwide managing partner Richard Parker. He said that a few more applications might go through after the deadline. The Palo Alto, Calif., office was affected the most, with about 28 of approximately 100 business and technology associates in the office opting to leave the firm. “We think the plan worked out better than we necessarily had hoped,” Parker said. “This was the upper end of our expectations.” A former Brobeck associate said the firm had told associates it wanted 85 attorneys to take the offer. “A lot of people I know have taken the package, and none of them were happy to be taking it. But they felt it was their only option,” the associate said. “They felt if less than 85 people took it there would be layoffs, and the deal wouldn’t be as good.” The associate said partners advised associates in their group whether they should take the severance package. Some people who were billing above 1,300 hours were also advised to consider taking it, the associate said. Parker said some associates not eligible for the program decided to leave the firm anyway, including an attorney who will be taking a teaching position at a law school. Brobeck offered the program as a way to avoid layoffs. Despite the large number of associates leaving the firm, Parker said he didn’t know whether layoffs would occur in the future. “I don’t know if we can say this is it,” Parker said. But the forthcoming departures go “a long way to addressing the overcapacity problem.” Parker said the reduction in associate ranks would save the firm about $12 million in salary and an unknown amount in overhead, such as liability insurance and computer lines. He said the firm does not have any other plans under consideration for cutting costs. While unhappy about the situation, some associates said they appreciate Brobeck’s efforts to avoid a mandatory layoff. “They gave partners and managers credit for not taking the easy way out and doing a layoff,” one Brobeck associate said. “The severance package is more than generous.” Brobeck’s voluntary program had almost the same result, however, as Palo Alto, Calif.-based Cooley Godward’s layoffs. In August, Cooley dismissed 86 associates, providing them with up to three months’ salary in severance pay.

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