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Leading West Coast law firm Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison said the recent departure of 25 associates had nothing to do with the current business downturn and reaffirmed promises by its chairman that the firm would not fire anyone for purely economic reasons. The firm criticized posts on Vault’s Brobeck message board, which had attributed the associate departures to economic reasons stemming from earlier over-hiring and “gross mismanagement of the firm.” Several posts also anticipated Brobeck’s claim that the cuts were for performance reasons. In one message, addressed as “An open letter to Tower Snow,” Brobeck’s chairman, one person wrote “Tower, please tell us that this was mismanagement to hire so many laterals when the tech bubble was bound to burst. We want this to be a miscalculation because the alternative is worse. If this was a calculated maneuver, if you made the conscious decision to hire as many warm bodies as possible to bill as many hours as possible, all the time knowing that you were going to cut them loose when the inevitable downturn came, then we have truly seen into the darkest reaches of the human soul.” “These rumors are untrue, completely untrue,” said Allan Whitescarver, Brobeck’s director of communications. “No layoffs have happened, nor do we plan any layoffs of associates.” To back up his claim, Whitescarver said his firm typically culls 3 to 4 percent of its underperforming associates every year. This year’s cuts targeted 3.5 percent of the associates. “The associates who left, those that have left involuntarily, have left in the first quarter, as they do every year in Q1,” Whitescarver said. Brobeck also disputed message board assertions that poor business had led to cuts in hiring summer associates. Firm wide, Brobeck extended offers of full-time employment to 90 percent of last year’s summer associate class, down only slightly from 1999′s rate of 93 percent and 1998′s rate of 92 percent. However, the firm could not immediately provide associate hiring rates broken down by office. Some message board posters had alleged that markedly low hiring rates at some smaller Brobeck offices had been masked by higher rates at the firm’s larger offices. While Silicon Valley dealmaking — Brobeck’s gravy train for much of the 1990s — may have come to a near-standstill, the firm still seems confident of continued prosperity. In January, the firm announced it would once again take the industry lead on salaries, raising first-years’ associate pay to $135,000. And in brown bag lunches with partners, associates, and staff earlier this year, Snow said the firm would not cut personnel, no matter how bearish the market. “He basically laid down a guideline and said we are not going to have any layoffs due to economics,” Whitescarver said. To keep profits strong, the firm hopes to rely on business from its old economy clients and from category-leading high tech firms such as Cisco and Verizon. “We want to make sure we have a lot of talented associates when we have a turnaround,” added Whitescarver.

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