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In the small pond of big law firms on Long Island, one smaller practice’s unrest seems to have created a ripple effect in the legal community since the start of the year. First came the news that the head of Rivkin Radler’s corporate practice, Barry Shapiro, and his partner Erica Garay, had left Long Island’s largest firm, with 135 attorneys, to join Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein in Mineola, N.Y. They took with them two other partners, two associates and five staffers in the move. A few days later, Rivkin Radler issued its own announcement that two former corporate practice partners and one associate with McMillan, Rather, Bennett & Rigano had left that firm for jobs at Rivkin Radler. Soon after, Certilman Balin Adler & Hyman announced that two of McMillan Rather’s bread-and-butter environmental partners had joined the East Meadow, N.Y., firm to set up a practice group there. Gone from McMillan Rather to Rivkin Radler are partners William Cornachio and Walter Gumersell. Associate Dara A.L. Coope went with them. Joining Certilman Balin from McMillan Rather are James P. Rigano and Barry S. Cohen. In addition to Shapiro and Garay leaving Rivkin Radler to join 63-attorney Meyer Suozzi, partners Jill Rosen Nikolaff and Howard B. Kleinberg also left, as did associates Stella Lellos and Robert Howard. The result for McMillan Rather is that the Melville, N.Y., firm has lost about a third of its partners — and the billings they generated — while in the process of looking for merger suitors. McMillan Rather has been looking to combine with a larger practice for some time, said Robert McMillan, name partner with the firm now known as McMillan Rather Bennett & Farinacci. He added that clients are increasingly turning toward firms with greater depth in services. “A couple of firms are interested,” said McMillan. He would not divulge which firm, if any, his practice may join, saying that to do so would be “unseemly.” He allowed only that any merger would not be with one of the firms where departing partners from his firm had gone. The McMillan firm was created in 1991 by four former Rivkin Radler partners. Leslie R. Bennett led the environmental practice group, and James B. Rather co-chaired the commercial litigation group at Rivkin Radler. Cornachio was a corporate partner, and Rigano was an environmental partner there. McMillan was of counsel to Rivkin Radler at the time. But the law firm, founded with a strong emphasis on litigation, was not immune to the dwindling revenues from that practice area regionwide in the late 1990s, one former partner explained. For a firm the size of McMillan Rather, one sagging area can create a burden too heavy for the other practice areas to shoulder. And with a possible merger looming at close of business last year, it appeared to be the right time for some McMillan Rather attorneys to make their own move. Rivkin Radler managing partner William Savino said that his firm had been negotiating with Cornachio and Gumersell prior to the exit of Shapiro, Garay and the other corporate attorneys from Rivkin Radler. Reached by telephone Feb. 3, Savino spoke with little reserve about Shapiro’s departure. “Barry is a fine lawyer, but he was the same lawyer over time,” Savino said. “It may have been that he somehow figured we were having to bring others in and he was not happy with that.” But Shapiro, who said that his practice at Rivkin Radler was creating $3 million in annual billings, explained the situation much differently. During a recent telephone interview while on a ski vacation in Colorado, Shapiro described Rivkin Radler, with its emphasis on insurance defense, as “bifurcated.” “It’s dominated by insurance defense partners,” he said, adding that his exit was an “indictment of the resources committed to growing a transactional practice.” Shapiro added that the other partners who joined him in leaving had “pushed for this” and were “very unhappy” at Rivkin Radler. Savino, who estimated last year’s billings for the corporate practice at about $2 million, 15 percent lower than the previous year, said that to take on the McMillan Rather partners while Shapiro remained at Rivkin Radler would have been “problematic.” Cornachio, the former McMillan Rather attorney now with Rivkin Radler, said that “from time to time” he had spoken with Savino about the possibility of rejoining the firm. He and Gumersell left the firm in the early 1990s to join McMillan Rather. He said that he had not, however, talked with Shapiro, the former chair of Rivkin Radler’s corporate practice group, about returning to Rivkin Radler. DIFFICULT TO COMPETE While the attorneys clearly differed about the specific reasons for the Rivkin Radler shift, they agreed that a common factor in the recent moves on Long Island is the potential phasing out of the region’s smaller firms like McMillan Rather — those with between 10 and 15 attorneys. “We could have easily gone out and established our own practice,” said Shapiro, 55. “But I couldn’t do that with the level of sophistication and depth.” Cohen, the former McMillan Rather environmental lawyer, said it has become increasingly difficult for firms of McMillan’s size to compete on Long Island, which has a small but powerful group of firms with 60 or more attorneys. “The reality is, I now have even more to offer my clients,” he said, referring to Certilman Balin’s hefty real estate practice, a complement to his environmental work. “If you can retain the profit from an area, rather than referring it out, that’s the intelligent choice.” The environmental practice comprised as much as 35 percent of McMillan Rather’s business prior to the move, Cohen said. But as he and Rigano sought to expand their so-called Brownfields’ practice, teaming up with Certilman made sense, he explained. Brownfields are areas that previously served as sites for defense manufacturers and any other “wet” businesses involving chemicals. As undeveloped land becomes more scarce among Long Island’s sprawling suburbs, Cohen predicted more legal business for the development of these areas. Certilman, which has about 20 attorneys in its real estate group, was a good fit, he said. CHANGING CLIENTELE The situation with McMillan Rather is reminiscent of the acquisition in June 2001 of Payne Wood & Littlejohn by Farrell Fritz. Long Island’s oldest law firm prior to the acquisition, Payne Wood found it increasingly difficult to compete with the area’s bigger firms, where clients can get a variety of services in one place. Payne Wood focused mostly on banking, with Fleet Bank and Roslyn Savings Bank as its loyal followers. At the time of the firm’s acquisition, former Payne Wood partner Thomas Kilian declared that “the day of the small firm is over.” Savino attributes the merger of Payne Wood and the likely outcome for McMillan Rather to a changing local clientele. “The Long Island business community as a whole clearly has become over the last decade a very sophisticated group of legal consumers,” he said. “That sophistication means that they want to make certain their law firm can take care of corporate matters, litigation, consultation, real estate.” On that point, Shapiro concurred. “You need depth,” he said. In the meantime, McMillan said that his firm remains strong in the areas of litigation, trust and estate work and corporate law. He also said that a pending merger will create a “major splash” when it occurs. “I have lots going on,” said McMillan, who also serves as the first and only non-physician trustee on the board of the American Medical Association. Attending an AMA board meeting recently, McMillan said he feels a responsibility to “keep the structure together” of McMillan Rather. “I am concerned about my partners and the secretaries,” he said. “We’ve got some very decent people here.”

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