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Which was most unseemly? Was it the dumping of the Brobeck staff without severance pay? Was it the partner zigging and Zagering? Was it the internal finger-pointing fest or the giddy carnival of schadenfreude? We’ll let you decide. But there are lessons to be learned from the collapse of Brobeck: lessons from what the firm and its leaders did poorly — and did well. HARD LESSONS 1. Wear Kevlar in Beirut: Brobeck had a famously sharp-elbowed culture. Even in good times, tensions boiled beneath the surface. When the economy soured, the warlords reemerged. Know your culture. Then fix it. 2. Avoid leadership gaps: Tower Snow got out ahead of his partners. He needed to spend more time building a broad political base. His successor, Richard Odom, failed to rally the troops. The partners voted no confidence, with their feet. 3. A corollary: Play your role. Odom was painfully uncomfortable as chairman. If you don’t like the spotlight, don’t walk out onstage. 4. Pick one HR policy: Snow’s no-firing edict was high-minded. But he couldn’t hold his partners in line (see No. 2, above). When the layoffs began, they only added to the stress and atmosphere of every lawyer for him or herself. 5. Don’t confuse your banker with your buddy: Citibank hosts a fine Edgartown retreat each summer for managing partners. But when your firm is headed for default, the bank doesn’t want to go sailing. It wants to cover its assets. Always watch your debt exposure. 6. Don’t believe your own hype: The talk of new paradigms and transforming business models can be heady. But facts can disrupt theories, and the danger in believing the theories is that you won’t react to the facts. 7. Don’t buy more house than you need: Which is another way of saying, why did so many smart lawyers not ask themselves, “What are we going to do with that great East Palo Alto real estate if the market tanks?” 8. Love your litigators: Brobeck’s product liability and toxic tort defense groups cranked out steady revenues in good times and bad. Tough guys have tender hides; showing them more public love would have helped. 9. Vendettas backfire: Even law firm leaders are human. Brobeck’s management was understandably annoyed when Snow decamped for Clifford Chance. But seeking revenge proved a distraction — and a bad public relations move. 10. Talk to the jury: A successful trial lawyer by practice, Odom did not communicate well to the jury of his peers — his partners. One telling example: A week after the firm dissolved, partners were still hunting for information on what had happened. WORTH EMULATING 1. A brand can stick: Snow proved that a firm could differentiate itself from the pack. By choosing a message and sticking to it, he converted Brobeck from a very good Bay Area firm to a high-tech economy market leader. Caveat: It helps to pick the right message. 2. Growth matters: Snow aimed to hire a lawyer a day. He was anticipating a tech market that would grow to the sky. He was wrong. But his insights about size and reach still apply in a world of consolidating law firms. 3. Take charge: Firms can be led. It’s better if they’re led by partners who have a deft political touch, but they can be pushed, prodded, and pulled in new directions. 4. Value staff: Snow built an almost fanatical loyalty in Brobeck’s staff by treating them as valued professionals. From the mail room to the CFO’s office, those people can help a law firm work as a business and a service organization. 5. Court the media: It’s self-serving of us to mention, but we’ll get over it. Snow’s wooing aided Brobeck’s climb and helped position him as a thought leader, a role that proved appealing to clients, laterals, and future employers. 6. A corollary: Dare to fail. Snow landed on his feet, his reputation dented but his drive undiminished. His big new idea, the inevitability of global firms; but see also, Snow, “The Inevitability of Tech Firms,” 1999-2001.

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