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With its two founding shareholders moving toward retirement, litigation boutique Woodard, Hall & Primm of Houston becomes the latest in a long string of well-known Texas firms to dissolve. Shareholder Robert A. Hall says the 33-year-old firm will close its doors around the first of the year, although shareholder Ripley Woodard will wind down the firm’s affairs over several months. Hall says he and Woodard started about two years ago to scale back their practices, and despite very preliminary merger overtures by two Houston firms and efforts to recruit lawyers, the younger shareholders in the firm began to leave and join other firms. Hall says the shareholders decided in early October to close the firm. “Rip and I, in the firm since 1968, sort of semi-retired [and] turned the operation of the firm over to our younger partners. They sort of decided they didn’t want to practice law together any more,” Hall says. “We weren’t able to grow the firm internally,” says former shareholder Larkin Eakin Jr. “The decision was very informally made that it was best to go our own ways.” One former shareholder who does not want to be named suggests the firm had plenty of work, even until the end, but the shareholders had grown apart on a personal level. “There were the usual frictions you would find in any partnership, but we were oddly sized in the marketplace and couldn’t find a critical mass one way or another,” says Eakin, who joined Winstead Sechrest & Minick in Houston in November. Woodard, Hall associate Ruth Brenton also joined Winstead. Eakin says many of his clients were demanding a broad range of services that Woodard, Hall, a litigation boutique, couldn’t provide. At its peak in the 1980s, Woodard, Hall had as many as 50 lawyers, Hall says, but it had dropped to about 21 lawyers at the beginning of 2001. Lawyers began to leave in groups in recent months. In March, Joe Ellis, Edward Carstarphen, Douglas Dougherty and Lawrence Goldenthal left to form Ellis, Carstarphen, Dougherty & Goldenthal. During the summer, shareholder David Mantour joined the new firm in an of counsel capacity. Also, Kimberly Gartner joined as an associate. Goldenthal says Woodard, Hall was a going concern when they left. “It was for all the reasons that lawyers want to go out and get their own firm. We left at a time when things were … running very smoothly,” Ellis says. PRACTICE DIFFERENCES In October, Phyllis Cohen, Ricky Raven and Jonathan Shoebotham joined Porter & Hedges in Houston. Cohen says she, Raven and Shoebotham left because they wanted to move to a full-service firm that is growing. Cohen, who practiced at Woodard Hall for more than 15 years, says the final decision to close Woodard Hall came after she left. Six other former shareholders either decline to offer much insight into why they left Woodard Hall or refer questions to Hall. Woodard, who has been ill, says he’s winding down his practice and will retire. “I think that obviously people had differences as to what they wanted to do and how they wanted to go about their law practice,” says Robert Corn, who joined McFall, Sherwood & Breitbeil in November as an of counsel lawyer. Former shareholder Elizabeth Kamin says the firm had a normal level of attrition over the years but didn’t have a strong recruiting program. Nevertheless, a year ago, she says, the breakup of the firm would have been unimaginable. Kamin is now a partner in Strasburger & Price in Houston, and Elizabeth Volmert is a senior counsel there. Other lawyers who left Woodard Hall in recent months include JoAnne Ray, now a partner in Adams and Reese in Houston, and Stephen Andrews, who joined Brown McCarroll in Houston, where he is an of counsel lawyer. Hall says he will join a firm in Houston in an of counsel capacity, but he says he’s leaving the announcement up to his new firm. Kamin says Catherine Schnaubelt is now a management consultant with Avatar Associates in Houston. Hall wouldn’t identify the potential merger candidates, but Eakin says Winstead was one of the firms. Mike Baggett, Winstead’s managing partner, says, “It’s fair to say we talked to some of their lawyers. I don’t think it really got further than that.”

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