(Last updated: 2:33 pm PDT)
Heller Ehrman partners will vote to dissolve the firm on Friday.
The news was announced by Chairman Matthew Larrabee at an emotional meeting that began at 1 p.m., according to a Heller staffer attending the meeting.
Larrabee told all attorneys and staff that dissolution is unavoidable and that the partnership will voluntarily dissolve. Staff will be paid on Friday, Larrabee said, and indicated that under the federal WARN Act, associates and staff would be paid for the next 60 days. A small group of staff would remain beyond that date to handle the winding down of the firm’s business.
|Heller HQ, 333 Bush St., S.F.|
Shareholder Jonathan Hayden, who has been with the firm since 1981, called it an incredibly sad day for the institution. “As somebody who’s an owner here, my heart really goes out to everyone who works here. They’re the ones who made us successful.”
Hayden said he was less concerned about shareholders being able to find new firms than he was about the fate of staffers. He declined to comment on talks to move large practice groups or offices to other firms.
Bill Henn, a secretary at Heller for 28 years, said the announcement didn’t come as a surprise, since rumors had swirled for weeks. Still, that didn’t make the news any easier for staff to hear.
“I didn’t want to cry. There were a lot of people crying,” said Henn, 65. “It’s really sad.”
The meeting began with a firmwide video presentation from Larrabee, which Henn said lasted about 20 minutes. After that, individual offices were addressed by their local leaders. In San Francisco, that was S.F. Managing Partner Barry Levin, who chaired the firm during its growth phase earlier this decade.
“Barry said, ‘I thought I’d be up here announcing a merger rather than a dissolution,’” Henn said. He said that, like Larrabee, Levin talked for 20 minutes and was apologetic and sad. Levin choked up at the end, Henn said.
“I think Heller is … was … a special place,” Henn said. “For a lot of people, it was a family.”
Henn said staffers are hoping to be retained when larger groups of attorneys land at new firms, and he confirmed that staff were given 60 days’ notice, and so will continue working for at least those two months. “I’ll come in until there’s nothing to come in to.”
We will be updating the story here and at CalLaw.com throughout the day.
— Niraj Chokshi & Zusha Elinson