Matthew Larrabee, the 52-year-old litigator who chairs Heller Ehrman, prides himself on his ability to diplomatically answer the most sensitive questions. Has the firm in recent years nudged some shareholders out of the partnership and into positions such as special counsel? “There are some folks that have [had] a change in status based on what is going on in their practice and their life,” Larrabee says rather succinctly. Did the firm recently revise its egalitarian compensation system to show greater deference to business generators? “There has been a philosophical adjustment to how we reward our people. We are allocating more to our biggest producers,” he responds quickly, in a relaxed tone.

But during an interview in early March at Heller’s San Diego office, it was a fairly innocuous question that appeared to dismay Larrabee, causing him to fall silent, a perturbed look on his face. What accomplishment, he was asked, was he most proud of? “I’m proud,” Larrabee eventually said, “[of] having the shareholders rally around what we are doing to make us a more competitive business.”

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