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A phone call from Tower Snow Jr. four months ago started a chain of events that culminated in the defection of a large group of Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison partners to Clifford Chance and the jumpstart of the London firm in the San Francisco market. In mid-January, Snow called James Benedict, the managing partner of Clifford Chance’s so-called Americas region, to discuss a potential deal. “He said he was going to leave Brobeck and one thing he was considering was leaving the firm with a group of people,” Benedict recalled. “He asked if we would be interested.” The timing was impeccable. Benedict said he and others in Clifford Chance’s Americas management group had decided in the fall that they should move into California within the next year. “There’s no hiding the ambition of Clifford Chance to be the world’s premiere firm,” Benedict said. “To do that you have to be the leading law firm in the United States — and to do that you need a presence in California.” So a few days after talking to Snow, Benedict flew from New York to California to meet with Snow. With him on the flight were Kevin Arquit, the vice chairman of London’s Clifford Chance, and Robert King Jr., the head of the firm’s global capital markets practice. The negotiations were finalized this week when Clifford Chance’s 650 partners voted to extend offers to Snow and 20 Brobeck partners. As of Thursday afternoon, 15 of the partners had resigned from Brobeck. Those partners will set up Clifford Chance offices in San Francisco and Palo Alto and two satellite offices in Los Angeles and San Diego. The firm has acquired temporary space at 425 Market St., in San Francisco, in the same building where Morrison & Foerster is headquartered. James Burns Jr., former firmwide managing partner of Brobeck, will become managing partner of Clifford Chance’s western U.S. operations. Burns, Snow and Michael Torpey, who headed Brobeck’s securities litigation group, will join the Americas management group board, which runs Clifford Chance’s U.S. practice. Snow said in an interview Thursday he focused on Clifford Chance for several reasons: “because of its global platform, its strategic vision, its history of bold moves and its culture.” Burns also likes the worldwide reach of Clifford Chance. He said the firm offered an opportunity for him to continue working with his colleagues at the top of the profession. “When I was managing partner operating in tandem with Tower, our vision was to become a player on the global stage,” Burns said. “I think that is still the vision of Brobeck. Clifford Chance is already there.” Burns downplayed reports of a rift in the partnership ranks. “There’s been too much speculation and gossip-mongering,” Burns said. “I think the partners here at Brobeck are fairly united. The group leaving for Clifford Chance decided it was time to move on and wanted to stay together.” He said the mood at the firm Thursday was “one of relief” that a decision had been made. Since news of the Clifford Chance deal surfaced two weeks ago, tensions have been high within Brobeck. The partnership voted to expel Snow from the firm May 17. Snow and Brobeck have diametrically opposing points of view on how the split took place. Firmwide Managing Partner Richard Parker said last week that he and other partners left Snow voice mail and e-mail messages to inform him of the vote. But Snow said no member of Brobeck’s management contacted him, and that he was simply met by a messenger when he stepped off a plane at San Francisco International Airport the day of the vote and handed a notice of his expulsion. Snow said he has not had access to his office or voice mail, and that he was sent a printout of about 600 e-mail messages that had stacked up in his absence. There’s no sign of the acrimony between the two sides easing anytime soon. Two days after his expulsion, Snow retained Palo Alto, Calif.-based Cooley Godward Chairman Stephen Neal — who recently represented Walter Hewlett in his battle to block Hewlett-Packard’s merger with Compaq — to represent him. Neal is seeking to retrieve Snow’s personal effects and client material from Brobeck. Meanwhile, Latham & Watkins Los Angeles partner Robert Long is representing Brobeck on the issue of Snow’s expulsion. SIGNIFICANT BLOW The defections are a significant blow for Brobeck — and one that some believe could have been avoided. One lawyer involved in the deal said he thought Snow and others wouldn’t have left Brobeck if the situation were handled differently. “Those with dissenting points of view were chastised, excluded, exiled and sometimes punished,” he said. No one from Brobeck management returned calls Thursday. With the departures, Brobeck will lose about 10 percent of its partnership ranks, which totaled about 200. One Brobeck lawyer involved in the deal said revenues of the departing group could exceed $75 million. According to associates and staffers, the firm Thursday attempted to assuage concerns among the ranks. Richard Parker and Richard Odom held three separate videoconference meetings with partners, associates and staff to report on the resignations and the outlook for the firm. While at least nine securities litigation partners have resigned, Odom and Parker said at the meetings that 10 partners remain in the group firmwide. An associate who attended one of the videoconference meetings said the managers emphasized that the firm had weathered similar losses. When Robert Gunderson left in 1995, he took eight partners to form Gunderson Dettmer Stough Villeneuve Franklin & Hachigian; and in 1978 Moses Lasky left with several partners to open his own shop. Brobeck may end up suffering further defections. Lawyers involved in the Clifford Chance deal say the firm plans to pick up 60 to 80 associates in the next month and they expect many will come from Brobeck. One associate at Brobeck said he planned to stay with the firm. “I won’t move because even though there has been controversy about Brobeck in the last couple of months, it’s one of the top brand names,” he said. “It’s still one of the top three firms in Silicon Valley.” NOT WORRIED For Clifford Chance, the Brobeck team gives the firm an instant leg up in the Bay Area, Benedict said. “It gives us an elite California business and greater access to a technology client base,” he said. “It will enhance our reputation and position and differentiate us from our New York competitors.” While the Brobeck team joining Clifford Chance emphasized the firm’s competitive strengths, local firms said they weren’t worried about the British invasion. Kenton King, managing partner of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom’s Bay Area offices, said Clifford Chance’s success will depend on how well the firm can integrate the Brobeck group. “If Tower Snow and the group of partners close to him is moving across the street and continuing to do what they’ve been doing, that is not exciting news,” King said. “But if the combination broadens their base of business it has the potential to be an interesting move and to affect competition here.” Morrison & Forester Chairman Keith Wetmore said lawyers know about Clifford Chance because it has been innovative in its expansion. “But from the client standpoint,” Wetmore said, “it’s a little bit: ‘Clifford who?’” Snow has a different take. “The firms with the greatest legal platforms are the New York elite and the Magic Circle firms, he said. “They do the biggest deals and handle the biggest cases on a global basis.”
Securities litigation group Sara Brody (SF) James Burns Jr. (SF) James Kramer (SF) James Lico (SF) Kevin Muck (SF) Susan Muck (SF) Michael Torpey (SF) Robert Varian (SF)
Litigation group Karen Johnson-McKewan (SF)
Corporate group Faye Russell (San Diego) Maria Sendra (San Diego) Christopher Vejnoska (SF)
Intellectual property group Daniel Harris (East Palo Alto)
Real estate group Gerard Walsh (Los Angeles)

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