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Buchanan Ingersoll Sees ‘Rash’ of Lawyer Departures, Drop in Associate Hours

Posted Aug 13, 2008 9:05 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney appears to be experiencing some growing pains.

The Pittsburgh-based law firm has merged with several law firms in the past several years, including 120-lawyer Klett Rooney Lieber & Schorling, also based in Pittsburgh, Legal Times reports. In 2006, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney finally made American Lawyer’s list of top 100 law firms.

But lately Buchanan Ingersoll has been hit by a “rash” of 35 lawyer and lobbyist departures, the story says, as well as a drop in work.

Barely a quarter of the firm’s lawyers have met billable hours goals and average associate hours are less than 1,650 a year, the story says. Citing the firm’s Shareholder Business Report, the story also says the firm is $10.5 million below its billing goals.

Former partners told Legal Times that the firm has not shown an adequate commitment to its satellite offices. A legal recruiter, on the other hand, sees a different problem with those offices.

“There was a tremendous amount of jealousy and rivalry that existed between Pittsburgh and the branch offices, with the guys in Pittsburgh believing the branch offices were taking out too much money,” said Jerry Kowalski of Highland Legal Research in New York, a former recruiter for the firm. The result is a lot of unhappiness.

“I don’t believe there is anybody [at Buchanan] who has any potential of moving who doesn’t have his résumé out there,” Kowalski told Legal Times.

In the law firm’s Miami offices, nine lawyers moved to Foley & Lardner, leaving behind only six lawyers occupying a floor and a half of office space. In New York, turnover has exceeded 60 percent since the beginning of 2007.

Chief executive officer Thomas VanKirk characterizes some of the departures as housecleaning, a comment echoed by Edward Allera, co-managing partner of the firm’s Washington, D.C., office. “You’ve got to produce, and we’ve become more and more demanding,” Allera told the publication. “Perhaps this wasn’t the optimal forum for a number of people.”

VanKirk said the firm is doing well despite the financial downturn, with an increase in revenue of 3.4 percent this year. “It was a terrible four months for the profession, and we’re still ahead on a bottom-line basis,” he told Legal Times. Last year the firm had fewer partners but higher profits per partner.

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