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Party is over for Wolf Block

Party is over for Wolf Block

Wolf Block's Philadelphia offices are close to barren, and remaining disgruntled and disillusioned staff are counting down the days till it is no more.

WOLF Block's Philadelphia offices are close to barren, and remaining disgruntled and disillusioned staff are counting down the days till it is no more.  

With the major US firm Wolf Block having less than two weeks before it ceases to exist, the reality of its demise has resulted in many staff and partners asking the question "why?". How did this once mighty US law firm topple so quickly, reports The Legal Intelligencer.  

Wolf Block’s partners voted in March to dissolve the 106-year-old law firm, which according to the latest Am Law 200 survey, finished 2008 with 153 partners, including 56 equity partners. 

Wolf Block was formed in 1903 by Morris Wolf and Horace Stern, two Jewish lawyers who could not get work at Philadelphia’s elite law firms. The firm rose in prominence during the first half of the 20th Century and was able to attract some of the nation’s top Jewish law school graduates until other firms changed their hiring practices in the late 1960s. 

Last year, Wolf Block announced it was delaying the start dates for its first-year associates from September to November. And in December, it laid off 15 lawyers and staff and then made more cuts earlier this year. 

While everyone wants the "why" answered, most partners are looking back and pointing fingers, leaving the majority of staff to wonder what their future has in store.  

A string of e-mails from longtime Wolf Block partners sent firm-wide in early May expressed both sadness about the firm's failure and anger toward what they saw as failed leadership. The remaining staff don't know when their last day is or who will be picked to stay longer and help close the operations down. 

Letters sent by the firm to employees said employment would end within a 14-day period beginning May 23. Kathleen Sonntag, a secretary with Wolf Block for 37 years, and Loretta DeMay, a 10-year veteran of the firm who has served as former chairman Robert Segal's secretary since joining, said they did not see the dissolution as something that had to happen, with Sonntag claiming the former chairman Mark Alderman, abandoned the sinking ship.  

DeMay said the firm should have replaced the leadership years ago when it was clear attempts to improve the firm weren't working. Sonntag could only describe the dissolution as greed and mismanagement: "No matter how much they made this year, they needed more next year," she said. 

This was similar sentiment expressed by counsel Donald Joseph, retired partner Jerome Shestack and chairman Segal. Joseph said that while he apologies to staff for what has happened, partners and senior attorneys were also victims, although some were also to blame. 

He questioned why Wolf Block never took the route Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis did after some failed mergers in 2001 when the firm cut partner compensation to help ensure its survival. He also said the decision to borrow money to pay out bonuses showed bad judgment and poor business sense.  

Shestack agreed that it is hard to bypass the fact that the dissolution happened because of the abysmal failure of leadership and a few greedy lawyers unwilling to cut back on high compensation. 

He pointed to the use of a line of credit at the beginning of a fiscal year to pay out bonuses for the prior year's performance.

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