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Thelen and the Fragile Nature of the Midsize Law Firm

Over in San Francisco, it's déjà vu all over again.  Almost exactly one month after Golden Gate law firm Heller Erhman met its demise, neighboring Thelen likewise has announced its dissolution, reports The Recorder. According to the firm's press release, the dissolution decision was:

precipitated by several economic factors, including recessionary pressures and numerous partner departures over the past year, both of which have negatively impacted firm revenues.  For the past several months, Thelen management has aggressively sought a full firm merger. Unfortunately, the most promising merger opportunity was derailed by conflicts, and all other full firm merger discussions terminated last week.

My initial reaction to the Thelen news was one of amazement -- after all, how can an 84-year-old, 400-person firm with such a rich history vanish so quickly? But as San Francisco legal recruiter Stacy Miller Azcarate told the Wall Street Journal, "Thelen's fate illustrates just how fragile law firms are."

What also puzzles me about the dissolution is why Thelen focused so much on finding a merger partner to rescue it from its fate.   After all, given its economic woes, what made Thelen believe that another firm would take on that kind of liability? 

Are firms like Thelen -- and Heller Erhman before it -- anomalies?  Or will we see more collapses before this recessionary economic cycle concludes?  For more post mortems, see Above the Law and WSJ Law Blog.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on October 28, 2008 at 11:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)


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