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Cummings & Lockwood management has been busy lately, quelling concerns over yet another round of attorney defections from the Stamford, Conn.-based firm. The latest resignations include that of Charles M. Tatelbaum, one of C&L’s top business generators and chairman of its creditors’ rights practice group. Tatelbaum, who gave notice earlier this month, is the second practice group head to leave the firm since Jan. 3. Former partner Vincent M. Kiernan also announced last week that three associates — seventh-years Christopher M. Cerrito and Evan S. Seideman, and fourth-year Ryan C. Fisher — will join him and three other ex-C&L partners at Edwards & Angell’s Stamford office. Presiding over a partnership meeting for the first time Jan. 13, new managing partner Jonathan B. Mills tried to allay fears of further high-level departures. He emphasized C&L’s record 2002 revenues, and acknowledged that the firm may revisit a management structure, adopted in May 2000, that grants more autonomy to each of its two core, but divergent, business lines. Cummings & Lockwood created individual management centers for its private clients services (wealth management) and business clients services (commercial) groups in an effort to give each side more control over how they recruited and trained associates, compensated their own partners and implemented business strategies. But in hindsight, “The cultural issues [caused by the switch] were bigger than we anticipated,” one partner maintained. ” … You don’t want two separate huddles going on. You want to feel you’re all in the trenches together.” Cross-selling and other joint efforts between the two groups were neither hurt nor helped by the management overhaul, that partner said. “It just kind of changed the feeling around here.” Peter A. Giuliani, the firm’s executive director, said the unorthodox governance model has been up for review since day one. “I don’t think we ever stopped reconsidering it. It was an experiment” — one that’s had both positive and negative impacts, he said. On the positive side, it’s given the two groups a greater understanding that they operate under different economics and need a certain amount of freedom to achieve their individual goals, he said. It’s also made the firm’s trusts and estates practice more attractive to new recruits, Giuliani added. At most large firms, the T&E group is secondary to the rest of the firm’s practice. “Here the T&E guys are driving the bus, or at least half of the bus,” he said. On the negative side, having two operating divisions has proven to be somewhat inefficient, Giuliani conceded. “It’s almost like running three law firms,” he said. Each division has its own executive committee; the firm as a whole has a board of directors. Giuliani, however, downplayed the change’s impact on firm culture. “There’s still a huge amount of … shared resources,” he said. Both sides of the firm, Giuliani pointed out, have common goals and common burdens for office leases and other overhead expenses. Mills’ address to partners helped ease concerns following news that Tatelbaum, a nationally prominent creditors’ rights expert, is returning to Florida to join 145-lawyer Shutts & Bowen, which has five offices in the Sunshine State and two overseas. Cummings hired Tatelbaum in the late ’90s to help launch its creditors’ rights group. He had been stationed in the firm’s office in Naples, Fla., before moving up to Hartford last year to be closer to the rest of what had grown to be a seven-lawyer unit. In an interview last week, Tatelbaum said he never took to Connecticut’s winters. Shutts & Bowen, he added, also has a “very substantial” international banking practice in need of additional creditors’ rights expertise. He declined to give other reasons for his departure. But Giuliani said it was, at least in part, due to Tatelbaum’s desire to start a quasi-legal, quasi-consulting business for companies in financial distress. The plan called for a joint venture between C&L and a large national credit agency, Giuliani said. Cummings & Lockwood, however, didn’t go along with Tatelbaum’s idea. “It wasn’t a bad idea,” Giuliani insisted. C&L, he said, just wasn’t willing to wait for a return on such an investment in an ancillary enterprise. C&L partners consider Tatelbaum to be among the firm’s top 10 business generators. Still, one partner said he expected the firm to retain most of the creditors’ rights group’s clients. The biggest hit to C&L, that person said, will be the loss of Tatelbaum’s name value. Among other high-profile engagements, Tatelbaum is the principal author of Chapter 10 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code dealing with small businesses, and has been featured on “60 Minutes” and “Good Morning America.” His decision to leave C&L, firm leaders maintain, was unrelated to the departures of Kiernan, corporate practice head Thomas J. Freed and others to Edwards & Angell over the past two months. Giuliani said he didn’t expect any of its Connecticut attorneys to follow Tatelbaum to his new firm. But as of Jan. 15, it was uncertain, Giuliani said, whether a Naples-based associate, who Tatelbaum had brought to the firm, would stay with C&L.

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