Law firm Howrey LLP has announced that it will dissolve. An innovator in the legal industry, the firm had discarded lockstep compensation and enhanced its summer program with Howrey Bootcamp, an “intense, lifelike mock trial” during which summer associates “learn to take a deposition, do a cross- and direct-examination and do opening and closing arguments.” Howrey also established the “First Tier”—a two-year program through which junior attorneys are limited to 700 hours of billable work and spend the remainder of their time training, shadowing attorneys and working at clients’ offices.
But somewhere between its innovating, Howrey hit some bumps. According to Bob Ruyak, Chairman and CEO of Howrey, “[t]he firm had experienced disappointing financial performance over the past two years and subsequently several partners had resigned.” Based on these troubles, Howrey’s partnership voted yesterday to dissolve as of March 15, 2010.
“This is a very difficult time for our firm, for our attorneys and for our staff,’’ says Ruyak in the firm's press release. “Many of us have spent our entire legal careers at Howrey and remain proud of what we built. We find some solace in the fact that our people have been so well received by their new firms. They are first class professionals and deserve the respect accorded to leaders in their fields.”
The firm has established a dissolution committee and has retained Peter Gilhuly—who also counseled Thelen on its dissolution—of Latham & Watkins to handle the dissolution. Some Howrey partners will be transitioning to other firms like Sidley Austin, Perkins Coie, K&L Kates, Dewey & LeBoeuf and Winston & Strawn (which originally was rumored to be hiring more Howrey attorneys than it actually is).
But the firm’s mention of WARN letters in its press release reminds us that many will, no doubt, be without jobs as a result of Howrey’s dissolution. In a legal job market that is already struggling, it’s a shame to see more additions to the unemployment pool.
So were there any hints that Howrey would crumble? The firm—which moved from 78 to 75 in the 2011 Vault Law 100 rankings—certainly received some positive feedback in last year's Vault survey, with associates touting such positives as,
•“The people and the collegial working environment, the flexibility for work (i.e., working at home), and the interesting and complex cases.”
•“Relaxed culture. No one cares when you are in or not just so long as the work that needs to get done is getting done.”
•“Friendly people and interesting work.”
But other associates complained about the following downers:
•“The lack of visibility in decision-making and below-market compensation.”
•“Not enough work; not a friendly place overall; we get paid less than associates at other big firms; we don't have much responsibility.”
Others had mixed feelings on the firm. One associate from Palo Alto described sufficient billable work despite the down market but little transparency in other areas: “In a tumultuous market, many colleagues have been able to stay busy on billable work that is both interesting and offers opportunities to develop new skills. The myriad of unknowns about individualized compensation, the new 'Tier 1' program, and often conflicting reports about the firm's finances are regular distractions.”
Click here to read more about Howrey and its associates' feedback in last year's Vault survey.
Howrey press release
The Am Law Daily Source
Above the Law Source
Howrey Summer Program
Howrey's First Tier: so far, so good?
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