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Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison may have gotten rid of its embattled former chairman, but the firm apparently has other, larger problems to resolve. The fact that at least 10 partners, and likely more, are lined up to follow Tower Snow Jr. to another firm points to possible cracks in Brobeck’s culture. According to more than a dozen Brobeck attorneys interviewed in the past two weeks, its main problem is dissatisfaction with the firm’s new management, led by Chairman Richard Odom and Managing Partner Richard Parker, and their lack of strategy for the firm. One partner who is ready to quit the firm says, “The primary thing that motivates me is a shift in vision away from ‘we want to be a global player’ to being willing to accept lesser things.” Perhaps more troubling is an apparent ideological divide among the partner ranks. The two sides appear to fall into either pro- or anti-Snow camps. Some Brobeck attorneys favor a New York model of doing premium work for technology clients, a strategy fostered by Snow. Others, including the new management team, support a more broad-based approach that includes litigation and larger, more staid Fortune 500 companies. “The younger attorneys who have grown up with nothing but technology have not learned the benefit of diversification,” said one partner who’s practiced in San Francisco for 25 years. “Attorneys need to be flexible in how they build their careers, realizing what is hot in one year will not be hot five years from now.” Odom, who was elected in November, declined to be interviewed for this story. But he has told The Recorder that the firm is “going back to the way things were.” Partners complain that Odom hasn’t made clear what he means. They say he has not shared his vision for the firm with them. That leadership vacuum could be what prompted as many as several dozen partners to pledge to follow Snow to London’s Clifford Chance. The negotiations stalled earlier this month, before Clifford’s partners voted. Brobeck managers were so enraged by Snow’s efforts that on May 17 they called for a vote to expel him from the partnership. Partner John Larson said about three-quarters of the partnership voted in favor of expulsion. Managers at other Silicon Valley firms are largely sympathetic to Brobeck’s management, saying that Snow’s apparent aggressiveness in recruiting Brobeck lawyers wasn’t something they would tolerate. “We obviously aren’t sure we know all the facts, but on the surface, a [former] chairman recruiting large numbers of attorneys to leave his firm seems inappropriate,” said the chairman of a Silicon Valley competitor. Brobeck, once known as a product liability litigation firm, grew in the 1990s into a technology powerhouse. Profits per partner topped $1 million at the peak of the boom in 2000. The next year, however, per-partner profits slid to $660,000. Many partners were willing to talk privately about the issues their firm faces, or why they may still leave, but they feared retaliation if they spoke openly about their concerns. Last week, Odom appeared in a firmwide video conference sternly pledging to root out all the partners associated with Snow. Partners said that some came away believing that Odom planned to take action against partners who considered leaving. Some protested that approach, and Odom reportedly has since toned down his language. Partners who came under harsh questioning when the Clifford Chance move first surfaced said that last week ended much more quietly than it began. When word of the Clifford Chance vote surfaced, one partner reportedly was given an ultimatum to quit or commit long term within the day, but managers quickly cooled off and backed away from that demand. “There was a witch hunt intended, but it got canceled,” said one of the partners who landed on the Clifford Chance list. The partner said what he has experienced instead has been a heartening show of support from his partners. “I’ve been inundated by partners who want me to stay,” he said. “We’re in the middle of a tug of love.” Still, the securities litigator is haunted by lingering doubts about the firm’s current leadership, which he said lacks strategic thinkers and consensus builders. “[Odom] is not a charismatic leader,” said the partner. “He’s not someone who gathers in all the disparate views and makes people feel included.” In a written statement, Odom said, “The event is now behind us, as are the distractions associated with the events leading up to it. The current management team and the partners are uniformly ready and anxious to move forward on efforts to position the firm to capture the tremendous opportunities available to Brobeck.” While Odom’s direction may be murky, Larson, a Brobeck partner and former firm chairman, said the firm’s strategy remains focused on counseling technology companies as it has for the past 20 years. “And that doesn’t mean we’re not going to do anything else,” Larson said. In recent weeks, Larson said he and other partners have reached out to the partners believed to be lining up behind Snow. “I can tell you a number of people have changed their minds,” Larson said. “I can’t tell you every person was ecstatic about everything in the firm, but to the best of my knowledge, they don’t have a long list of complaints.”

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