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by Vault Law Editors | June 08, 2009


Is Hugh Verrier, chairman of White & Case, happy he granted access to the New York Times for today’s feature Bleak Day at the Bar?* Hard to believe that he is. (And not merely because he is described as 'a husky man in pinstripes.’)

The case of White & Case is presented as emblematic of an industry in its death throes confronting a ‘paradigm shift.’  A legal consultant compares White & Case to a terminal patient in ICU.  Anonymous ‘top’ and ‘longtime’ firm partners describe a climate of fear and deteriorating collegiality. White & Case’s 2008 holiday party is described as ‘depressive’ (whereas the previous year’s was ‘Neroesque’). ‘Shell-shocked’ lawyers now ‘stroll’ to the bathroom rather than the ‘scurry,’ as they did in the good old busy days.  Lawyers cower behind shut office doors hoping to avoid the ‘man with the ax.’ And so on.

It’s a grim read, backed by the familiar assemblage of ATL/Hildebrant/Zeughasuer/AmLaw stats and sound bites.  For the most part, there’s little new here for anyone even vaguely aware of what’s going on in BigLaw.

But that’s not to say there’s nothing new. Presumably, Verrier agreed to speak to the paper in the hope of contextualizing or humanizing  the firm’s ‘gut-wrenching’ decision to undertake mass layoffs. It cannot be said that he succeeded.  The money quote:

Mr. Verrier said he saw the storm approaching shortly after he took control in 2007, and considered three options, in consultation with a group of core partners: Do nothing, which risked the firm’s survival; couch layoffs as decisions based on poor performance; or own up to the crisis and bid large numbers of lawyers a harsh but needed goodbye.

Wait a minute…what was that middle one again?  “Couch layoffs as decisions based on poor performance.” In other words, give laid-off lawyers (and the public) a false reason for their getting the ax.  In other words, smear a bunch of actually blameless attorneys with a trumped-up ‘performance-based’ charge that they would have had to carry for the rest of the careers. In other words, lie. Shinyung Oh, call your office!

It is remarkable that the chairman of such a venerable firm so blithely acknowledges that he seriously considered (‘in consultation with a group of core partners’) going the full-on BS CYA route.  As if he is to be congratulated for opting not to?  It appears the Newspaper of Record buried the lede.

Anyway, there is much of the usual blather in the piece about how “The gentleman’s profession of the law is becoming a vestige of the past.” Becoming?

-posted by brian

*Online, the same article goes by the title A Study in Why Major Law Firms Are Shrinking


Filed Under: Law