There’s no such thing as trade secrets in the legal industry. The blogosphere has assured that. Salary information, lateral hires and layoffs are all likely to be leaked.
In recent weeks, one of the most influential legal blogs, Above the Law, has been reporting on several firms with a Connecticut presence. The most pervasive chatter has been about New Haven-based Tyler Cooper’s allegedly imminent demise, either by merger or dissolution.
Managing Partner William S. Fish Jr. did not return calls from the Law Tribune last week, but he denied any impending dissolution last month in an e-mail to Above the Law. He said Tyler Cooper has no plans “to dissolve as a partnership in the near future.”
Tyler Cooper saw its gross revenue shrink to $22 million last year, $4 million less than in 2005. And one source indicated to the Law Tribune that Tyler Cooper “had an acquisition partner on the hook.”
Dealing with information leaks in the blogosphere creates additional challenges for public relations experts whose job is to control the message, said Bloomfield PR specialist Andrea Obston.
“Most law firms are not comfortable with blogs, and they discount them, which I think is a mistake,” Obston said. She advises law firms to take blog postings seriously because they’re public knowledge and to at least provide a boilerplate comment for the record.
“Just stonewalling is a very nonproductive way of doing things,” she noted.
‘NO PARTICULAR DEAL’
Thelen Reid, which has a Hartford office and was created by the merger of two bicoastal firms, is actively seeking a merger opportunity, too. Above the Law got the word out through a leaked internal memo, but nothing about the firm’s plans is secret, spokesman Kevin Livingston said.
“No particular deal is in the works,” he said. “Mergers have been part of our growth strategy for the past 10 years and remain one of the many ways we plan to continue to grow the firm.”
In March, the firm announced the layoff of 26 associates and 85 administrative staff nationwide, two in each category in the Hartford office. Nearly 20 partners have also left since the announcement.
Boston-based Bingham McCutchen announced recently that it is trimming its administrative staff and regionalizing resources. Ten administrators were laid off in Hartford, leaving about 50 on the roster; the firm intends to use its New York resources for additional support.
All told, “the number is more than 60 people dedicated to the administrative needs of the Hartford office,” said spokeswoman Claire Papanastasiou. Hartford’s office has about 50 lawyers, none of whom were affected by the cuts.
“Bingham remains committed to and invested in the Hartford office,” Papanastasiou said.
The buzz about firms with Connecticut ties comes at a time of widely reported cutbacks elsewhere in the industry. Last week, the Wall Street firm of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft slashed 96 lawyers.
Cadwalader is a major player in commercial mortgage backed securities, and the credit crunch has dried up work in its capital markets and global finance groups.
Weston-based law firm management consultant Peter Giuliani said firms like Cadwalader and New York-based Thacher Proffitt & Wood, which has been linked to dissolution rumors, are in the thick of a mess.
“Firms that were tied to real estate finance are going to get clobbered,” he said. “Anything having to do with the Wall Street end of real estate finance will see a fall-off.”
Philadelphia-based Dechert operates a Hartford office and adjusted its roster earlier this year in the finance and real estate practice area. In March, the firm issued layoff notices to 13 associates before offering to shift those associates to busier practice areas. Two of the affected associates practiced in Hartford.
While Dechert is among the firms diversified enough to survive in a rough economic climate, Giuliani does expect more discussions and news about merging law firms.
“We’re seeing outside of the state a whole lot of merger activity,” Giuliani said. “Firms are talking to firms, and sometimes they’re just talking and sometimes they’re taking further action. I’m still surprised that in the wake of the Day Berry/Pitney Hardin merger we haven’t seen more buzz about combinations involving Connecticut firms.”
When it happens, the blogs will certainly take notice.