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Tower Snow Jr. and 10 other securities litigation partners at San Francisco-based Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison were mum Monday about a British press report that they were set to leave Brobeck for Clifford Chance Rogers & Wells. The Lawyer reported Monday that Clifford Chance is to vote Friday whether to take on the group and open an office in San Francisco. In addition to Snow, the publication said other partners ready to make the jump include Paul Bessette, Sara Brody, James Burns Jr., James Kramer, Dean Kristy, James Lico, Kevin Muck, Susan Muck, Michael Torpey and Robert Varian. With the exception of Bessette, who is based in Brobeck’s Austin, Texas, office, the partners are located in San Francisco. Asked about the report, Kramer said, “I have no comment.” Snow and the other partners did not return phone calls for comment Monday. James Benedict, managing partner of Clifford Chance’s New York office, also did not return a phone call Monday, and other partners declined to comment on the article. “I’m a good partner,” said Clifford Chance’s Lewis Cohen, adding that he hoped his colleagues also were silent on the subject. As to whether the news report was accurate, he said: “I would never say.” The San Francisco Bay Area legal community began buzzing two weeks ago about Snow’s possible defection to Clifford Chance. According to The Lawyer, that was the time the Brobeck group met with Clifford Chance partners in New York. A Snow decision to leave Brobeck would not be surprising. Since he stepped down as chairman in November, he has said he was considering positions outside the firm. But some industry insiders voiced surprise that he would go to a competitor and take such a large group with him. “Former chairmen either go in-house, become consultants or return to their own practice at the firm they’ve been at,” said Bay Area law firm consultant Gerry Holt. “To take arguably the most profitable group, and most visible, and go to a competitor is unusual.” Holt said Clifford Chance was a good choice for Snow. “Brobeck is still a West Coast law firm,” he said. “To take his practice on a truly global stage must be pretty appealing for someone like Tower.” It’s uncertain what impact the defection of so many partners would have on Brobeck. “Firms going through changes have issues related to stability,” said Altman Weil consultant Ward Bower. “But Brobeck should come out of it OK. They have a strong base.” Snow led the firm through a huge growth period, with partners per profit surging to more than $1 million. Last year the firm figure slid to $660,000. When a number of partners voiced concerns about his management style and moved to have someone run against him as chairman, he decided not to seek a third term. The partnership elected longtime Los Angeles partner Richard Odom as chairman and named San Diego’s Richard Parker firmwide managing partner. Since then, the firm has instituted a voluntary buyout program and two rounds of associate layoffs, trimming 171 associates from its ranks. At least eight partners have left the firm since November, most recently Joseph Siino, who headed Brobeck’s Northern California technology group, and Kerry Smith and Valerie Russell, all three members of the business and technology group in East Palo Alto, Calif. Siino opened his own intellectual property consulting business, and Smith jumped to Pillsbury Winthrop’s Palo Alto office. Brobeck’s last en masse defection of partners occurred in 1995 when Robert Gunderson left with five partners and formed Menlo Park, Calif.’s Gunderson Dettmer Stough Villeneuve Franklin & Hachigian. For Clifford Chance, the acquisition of the Brobeck team would give the firm a presence in California and a national footing. The firm has more than 3,000 lawyers worldwide but only two offices in the United States: one in New York and the other in Washington, D.C. The firm was formed three years ago through the three-way merger of London’s Clifford Chance, New York’s Rogers & Wells and Germany’s Punder, Volhard, Weber & Axster.

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