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by Vault Law Editors | September 26, 2008

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As anyone with a law degree or a 415 area code knows by now, the boom finally dropped on Heller Ehrman yesterday, when Chairman Matt Larrabee announced the partnership’s intention to dissolve the firm. Heller’s demise, while certainly no shock in the wake of a revenue decrease in 2007 and a rash of partner departures over the last 18 months, came suddenly: Amid reports that last-ditch merger talks with Mayer Brown had floundered, roughly 15 partners from Heller's cornerstone IP department fled to Covington & Burling early last week, perhaps precipitating the firm’s disintegration. With today’s vote an apparent afterthought, and at least one blog already popping up to counsel (and console) survivors, it seems only fitting that we reflect briefly upon Heller’s storied history…

 

Boasting San Francisco roots that run San Andreas-deep, Heller rode out the physical and economic turmoil that engulfed The City following the 1906 quake, going on to help secure financing for the Golden Gate and San Francisco-Oakland Bay bridges and take Levi Strauss public in 1971. While Heller continued to make its haul working an amorphous grouping of specialties through the turn of the century—IP and M&A counted as recent revenue leaders—the firm’s most lasting achievement in the new millennium may well prove to be a product of its pro bono department: Working with a vast network of gay rights and civil liberties activists since 2004, Heller celebrated in May of this year when the California Supreme Court struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. (Heller antitrust partner Stephen Bomse’s prediction for the morning after: “A lot of people will be getting over a fairly massive hangover.”) Debate over the issue, of course, rages on, and the court’s decision isn’t ironclad—come November, Californians will vote on an initiative that would amend the state’s constitution to prohibit same-sex unions. For the time being, however, the efforts of Bomse et al. stand tall—even as their firm falls to its knees.

 

- posted by ben fuchs

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