The fate of Heller Ehrman’s 18 London lawyers hung in the balance over the weekend after the US firm announced plans for an “orderly dissolution” last week.
Heller’s eight UK partners were locked in meetings on Thursday and Friday as they attempted to find a new home for themselves, their associates and their support staff. Negotiations were expected to continue through the weekend.
One London associate told The Lawyer: “We’re being kept in the loop. I’ve got every faith that the partners will look after us.”
Despite the London market losing the West Coast firm, a new nameplate could be going up in the City, with Cooley Godward Kronish emerging as one of the early favourites to take control of Heller’s Venture Law Group (VLG).
Five out of the eight London partners are members of Heller’s VLG practice, which assists emerging technology companies with business and legal advice from incorporation through to IPO, acquisition and beyond.
Baker & McKenzie and Mayer Brown, both of which broke off merger discussions with Heller during the last two months, remain interested in some of the firm’s US offices, although neither are looking at the London operation (TheLawyer.com, 26 September).
Heller’s London office is led by US partner Brian Smith, who is unlikely to be involved in any deal involving solely the London team.
London’s key lawyers are corporate partners Richard Eaton and Christopher Grew, who were part of Brobeck Hale and Dorr’s London office before Brobeck Phleger & Harrison dissolved leaving its European joint venture partner Hale and Dorr to merge with Wilmer Cutler & Pickering.
Chairman Matt Larrabee decided to dissolve the firm after the bank seized control of Heller’s assets. The bank’s decision was taken after the departure of 14 IP lawyers to Covington & Burling in September triggered a clause in the contract governing the firm’s line of credit.
Although associates and support staff will be paid, partners have seen their last draw. The next draw was due tomorrow (30 September).
Total redundancies in the UK legal market to date: 569