A week after Heller Ehrman’s unfortunate fate was sealed, Thelen has become the firm to watch. The cosmic center for legal snark on the Internet, the comments sections on Above the Law, are all over San Francisco’s other troubled firm.
The story so far: Canceled summer program, partner defections, a statement out of nowhere that it was seeking merger partners, a more recent internal memo saying that despite rumor-based expectations no merger announcement is at hand, the entire China practice fleeing to Pillsbury, and now, as our colleagues at the BLT reported Wednesday morning, D.C.-based construction partners joining Pillsbury, too, with yet others in talks.
With Thelen management and a spokesman keeping a very low profile in the media (though among the anonymous commenters on ATL is a voice that frequently asserts management-level knowledge in vague defense of the firm), it seems that the rumor mill is filling the vacuum. One knowledgeable-sounding Thelen apologia contains facts at odds with our own reportage, however. We’ve heard from two well-placed sources that the China practice’s defection to Pillsbury was not at all an “acquisition” brokered by Thelen.
It seems pretty easy to connect the dots to conclude that the rumored merger with Nixon Peabody is as dead as David Spade’s movie career, but any observer who doesn’t want to watch another San Francisco firm face truly dire straits would hope to be wrong, or that another hero rides into town soon, because in the absence of powerful good news, partner defections tend to accelerate in a vicious cycle of more people thinking about leaving because more people are thinking about leaving. Cal Law handicapped some of the remaining stars in Thelen’s firmament recently (here, with totally worthwhile free reg required; and here's our list of more than 100 laterals who've left Thelen since the '06 merger with Brown Raysman and where they've gone; and here, former Thelen chairman, now consultant, Richard Gary writes about how troubled firms in general should handle their crises).
It can be high times for legal recruiters, but it’s not going to be fun for deeply loyal attorneys and staff working to keep their firm afloat. And to make clear, we're saying there's a lot of conflicting information and commentary, most of it anonymous and sometimes clearly ill-informed, untrue or visibly biased. We look into the rumors and confirm or debunk what we can, but when a firm exercises its right to hunker down and ride out the storm in near-silence, it seems the marketplace will fill the void, and that's one of your worst enemies when times get rough.
— Brian McDonough