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The Cochran Firm, Schneider, Kleinick, Weitz, Damashek & Shoot, one of the powerhouses of the New York City personal injury bar, is undergoing a major downsizing. Three years ago, the Schneider Kleinick office, which is located in the Woolworth Building at 233 Broadway, had about 37 lawyers, including the five name partners of Schneider Kleinick and Johnnie L. Cochran, who maintains an office there, according to a source close to the firm. Now, the source says, Schneider Kleinick is down to four of its named partners and two associates, not counting Cochran and one of the firm’s lawyers who works closely with him, the source said. Cochran, the famed trial lawyer who won an acquittal for former football star O.J. Simpson on charges that he murdered his wife, teamed up with the Schneider Kleinick firm in a highly publicized merger in 1999. Cochran did not return several phone calls seeking comment on his relationship with Schneider Kleinick. Several calls to two other named partners were also not returned. Whatever may be driving the reconfiguration of the firm, this much is certain: it is not a lack of money. In April 2001, the firm was awarded $98.4 million for its work in securing New York’s $25 billion share of a $208 billion pact reached in 1998 between 46 states and the tobacco industry over the state’s claims for reimbursement for funds spent treating smoking-related illnesses. The total value of settlements and verdicts won by lawyers at the firm since Jan. 1, 2001, reported in the New York Jury Verdict Reporter, comes to $106.1 million. Two of the verdicts were for more than $20 million and may have been subsequently reduced. At the time of the Cochran merger, the Schneider Kleinick firm reported that its two biggest guns, Ivan S. Schneider and Harvey Weitz, together scored 100 verdicts of more than $1 million. Both Schneider and Weitz will turn 70 this year. Arnold L. Kleinick will turn 70 in 2003. A source, who had seen a copy of a letter the firm has sent to clients whose cases were being referred to new firms, said the letter explained that after many years in private practice, some of the lawyers wanted to have more leisure time. The firm is seeking to sublease its space on the fifth floor of the Woolworth Building, according to Frederick Kane Marek, an executive vice president at the brokerage firm Julien R. Studley Inc. A lawyer familiar with the firm’s offices said that Schneider Kleinick took up the entire fifth floor. Another source said that the firm has about three years left on its lease. Several sources said that four of the firm’s named partners — Philip M. Damashek, Schneider, Kleinick and Weitz — had divided up many of the firm’s cases among themselves early this year, with each of the partners authorized to designate where his group of cases would be referred. In addition, a significant number of cases were reportedly referred to another powerhouse personal injury firm, Sullivan Papain Block McGrath & Cannavo, either this April or May. On May 1, Schneider Kleinick name partner, Brian J. Shoot, a highly regarded appellate lawyer who did much of the legal work on the tobacco case, joined Sullivan Papain. Two associates are said to have joined Shoot in the move. With respect to the cases that were referred earlier in the year, sources said, Weitz and Kleinick referred their share to their sons, Andrew L. Weitz and Keith A. Kleinick, both of whom had been lawyers at the firm and are reportedly opening their own shop. Schneider sent his portion, sources said, to Gregory Cannata, who had been a partner at the firm. The younger Kleinick also had been a partner at the firm and the younger Weitz had been an associate. None of the three lawyers is listed in the 2002 Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory at the firm. Cannata declined to comment, and the younger Kleinick did not return a phone call asking for comment, nor did the younger Weitz. The sources did not know which firms had received cases from Damashek. Lawyers left Schneider Kleinick in two waves. Each time some attorneys were laid off and others left on their own, one source said. The first group of around five associates, left about three weeks after the firm re-entered the Woolworth Building after the Sept. 11 attack on the Twin Towers, the source said. Another group, which included both associates and contract partners, left in December, the source added. In October, the elder Weitz told the Law Journal that the firm had laid off two full-time lawyers and one part-timer.

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