As one partner remembers it, New York-based CKR Law, founded in 2014, had about 100 people when he was interviewing. By the time he joined, its head count had roughly doubled.
Now, as he prepares to leave, the firm has contracted.
About 30 names have disappeared from CKR’s website in the past three weeks, according to an ALM analysis. Its offices in Dallas and Cleveland, which listed a total of 10 lawyers, are among those that have disappeared from the website. Its online head count stood at 165 as of Tuesday, down from more than 200 last month.
CKR, a U.S. law firm with a global network of affiliates that ran into trouble paying its large share of nonequity partners this year, has also faced more litigation: A New Jersey catering company sued CKR last month for $4,800, claiming it got stiffed after catering a firm event.
Jeffrey Rinde, CKR’s managing partner, said the catering dispute has been resolved and “has no bearing” on its relationship with other vendors. He told ALM on Monday that he still has confidence in CKR’s business model and he says the departures observed by ALM weren’t hurting the firm’s business.
“The reduction in head count represented less than 20% of the aggregate lateral hires, which is significantly above industry standards, and approximately 1/3 of the reductions were affiliate relationships,” he said in an email.
“We believe these actions combined with other measures have adequately addressed the short-term issues the firm was confronting. It is not expected that the reduction in head count, given the recent hires, will have a material impact on the 2019 revenue and profit targets,” Rinde added.
Some of the 30-plus lateral exits have already been announced. Six bankruptcy lawyers from CKR, seen as a “core” part of the firm’s business by some of their former colleagues, moved to Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads, a midsize firm with its base in Philadelphia. In late May, midsize firm Murphy & McGonigle announced that it had hired Robert Appleton, who led CKR’s government enforcement and white-collar practice. And in Dallas, former CKR corporate partner Scott Beckmen joined Stinson, according to that firm’s website.
Other exits were quiet. Lawyers previously listed in CKR’s Cleveland office appear on the website of Climaco, Wilcox, Peca, Tarantino & Garofoli, which doesn’t mention CKR. Name principal John Climaco declined to comment on his team’s disappearance from the website, telling a reporter, “I don’t want to get involved.”
Aman Badyal, a tax partner in San Diego, now appears as a shareholder on the website of Weintraub Tobin. He declined to comment.
Meanwhile, the voice mail greeting for CKR’s purported Atlanta office informs the caller that he has reached a firm named Fuller Sloan. “Donnie Sloan has been in practice of law for 45 years. I have been in the practice of law for 35 years,” Steve Fuller, the firm’s managing partner, told ALM. “The client looks to the attorney for the trusted relationship, not the law firm.”
Overall, CKR’s speedy growth appears to have slowed down significantly in recent months. For instance, the number of people, including staff and attorneys, listing CKR as their employer on LinkedIn more than doubled from 65 to 134 over the course of 2018. It peaked at 145 in April and now sits at 140.
Attorneys close to the firm told ALM that there was widespread dissatisfaction with the way the firm was run. They also said emails inquiring about pay aren’t getting answered and many expenses aren’t reimbursed. Some lawyers have simply stopped billing their clients, or stopped trying to collect, or have asked them to pay into non-CKR accounts, some sources said.
To be sure, firm leaders say some departures are good. Rinde previously told ALM the firm has been “terminating certain underperforming partners and restructuring agreements with others.”
Two lawyers who spoke to ALM, including one who is no longer affiliated with the firm, said they trusted Rinde to right the ship. Stephen Weiss, a partner in the firm’s Los Angeles office who arrived at the firm in 2014, said he regards Rinde as a friend and believes the situation is improving, adding that he was treated “no differently” from other partners when it came to pay. And Mark Wilkow, who was affiliated with the firm from 2016 through May, said he wasn’t affected by the nonpayment issues that ALM has reported on.
Even as dozens of people have cut ties with the firm, new lawyers have also been appearing on CKR’s website. The firm announced on Monday that it had added partners in Houston and in Irvine, California, and recently announced that six partners had joined in Miami, although they appear to have joined over the past several months.
The turnover may have played a part in the catering company’s suit against the firm. On May 16, food service company Northern Valley Affairs Corp. sued CKR in Bergen County Superior Court, saying it hadn’t been paid the $4,800 it was owed for catering an event at CKR’s offices.
Bruce Egert, a solo practitioner who represents the company, said nobody answered the letters he sent to the firm’s offices in New York City. The letters were addressed to a lawyer at the firm, Joshua Soloway, who according to his LinkedIn profile, left CKR in April, but Egert said someone still should have read them.
On June 10, after ALM inquired about the lawsuit, CKR paid the bill, Egert said.