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by Vault Law Editors | November 20, 2008

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Think Cadwalader’s 96-lawyer pink slip fiesta in summer 2008 was impressive? Now this most Darwinian of firms is shoving managing partner Bob Link off the raft. Link was formally removed from the management committee in a meeting that took place yesterday.  And after that party, comes the after-party: Partner defections and the inevitable whispered rumors of dissolution.

Let’s take a moment to reflect.

It wasn’t so very long ago (um, it was 2007) that Link was lauded by the legal community for making Cadwalader Wall Street's fifth most profitable firm, ahead of even Skadden and Latham & Watkins. It was Link’s idea to reorganize the firm around a core group of high-margin practices centered on the financial services industry. Indeed, Cadwalader was a pioneer in the securitization of financial assets, in which lenders package mortgages and other obligations into securities that can be sold to investors. Under Link, Cadwalader took off. Lehman Brothers and Freddie Mac were major clients, as were other heavyweights in the capital and real-estate finance markets. The firm represented Freddie Mac in the first issue of collateralized mortgage obligations, trailblazed the securitization of automobile loans with General Motors Acceptance Corp. and, with Goldman Sachs, the pooling of credit card debt.

You see the pattern.

With an honors degree in accounting, an M.B.A. and a J.D., all from the University of Tennessee, Link brought ruthless focus to the firm. A real estate lawyer, he joined Cadwalader in 1987, made partner in 1990, and by 1994 was among a group of partners who seized control of the management committee and set about eliminating low-margin practices and low billing colleagues. Since then, Cadwalader has kept vigilant watch over its partners’ earnings. Pushing for greater accountability, Link earned plaudits for being one of the first legal managers to run his firm like a business.

But with its core markets of real estate and structured finance collapsed (and despite the firm’s insistence to Vault back in June that it was simply funneling resources to other, newer areas—an anti-trust practice, an IP lit group, and a white-collar litigation team), the chickies came home to roost. Partners now face a 50 percent reduction in profits, which has rainmakers from the neglected stepchild practices threatening to leave. The internal rumblings forced current Chairman W. Christopher White, long a Link supporter, to accelerate the committee overhaul meeting by a full month.

So “Bottom-line Bob” wrote his own walking papers.  Nothing personal, mind you. It’s just business.

-posted by anu rao

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Filed Under: Law

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