In the wake of Thelen’s decision on Tuesday to start the process of dissolution, Legal Pad called Richard Gary, a legal consultant and chairman Thelen from 1992-2003. He said the announcement made for “a very sad day.”
“I feel very badly about it,” Gary told us. “No one’s going to come out a winner.”
In its press release today, the firm cited a handful of factors that led to the firm’s failure. One that seemed particularly significant to Gary was the 2006 merger with Brown Raysman Millstein Felder & Steiner, which by all accounts has gone poorly.
“As an outside observer, it appears that the firm entered into a merger with Brown Raysman that was ill-timed and ill-considered,” Gary said. “Whether it made sense at some time I don’t know; what’s very clear is that the firm began to go off the rails after that merger was consummated.”
That merger, the failure of which may be best personified by the recent departures of the Brown, Raysman and Steiner who lent their names to the combined firm, is sure to be prominently discussed as observers try to lay blame for the failure of Thelen.
“I think you have to lay that at the doorstep of the leadership of both sides,” Gary said. “They may have had good intentions, but it was a bad decision.”
Gary said that when he left the firm in 2003, he thought it was on the right track. He was succeeded by New York partner Thomas Igoe, who was later succeeded by current chairman Steve O’Neal.
“I felt that the firm was a good place and I felt the firm in very good hands with Thomas Igoe’s leadership,” Gary said. “Over the past five years, things have changed, the leadership has changed.”
As the economy worsens, a number of law firms seem to be struggling. Gary said rough times don’t have to end with a dissolution vote and pink slips.
“I think that any professional services firm can be saved if there is a strong leadership and a core group of partners who want to save the firm,” he said, “and that seems not to be the case at Thelen and Heller.”
Nonetheless, the failure of two of San Francisco’s leading firms can’t sit well with anyone in the legal community.
“No partner in a San Francisco law firm will look at what happened to Heller and Thelen and not think, ‘Will my firm be next?’” he added.
— Zusha Elinson