The Beverly Hills and Los Angeles offices of the country's fourth-largest law firm, New York-based Finley, Kumble, Wagner, Underberg, Manley, Myerson & Casey, began liquidating at the close of business Tuesday, a West Coast spokesman for the firm confirmed.
The impending demise of the 20-year-old firm became known publicly about six weeks ago. It has been struggling under a debt load estimated at $60 million to $85 million. Before it began to wind down, the firm had 684 lawyers in 14 offices across the country, including 160 here.
But that strength in numbers has eroded despite assurances last month that Finley Kumble would continue to be "a full-service national law firm providing top quality representation for our clients on a worldwide basis," in the words of firm executive Alan U. Schwartz.
On Dec. 4, the downtown Los Angeles officially closed, merging with the Beverly Hills office.
Partners in the combined office addressed a terse memo on Monday to attorneys and staff of the Beverly Hills and Los Angeles offices that stated:
"The partners of Beverly Hills and Los Angeles have voted to place the Beverly Hills and Los Angeles offices on a liquidation basis effective at the close of business Dec. 15. Final paychecks for all associate attorneys and employees will be available in personnel at the close of business on Dec. 15."
The memo noted that "certain of you" would be asked to remain on the job after Tuesday. A schedule for collecting paychecks and cashing in pension contributions was included.
Plans for Clients Unknown
"I will confirm officially that the memo went out," said Gene Schwam, president of Hanson & Schwam, which handles publicity for the West Coast offices.
But he said the local branch of the firm had issued no statement or details about how it plans to liquidate or how clients would be dealt with. He also did not say whether any California office would continue to exist.
Schwam said Schwartz and other key partners had flown to New York for meetings with colleagues about the entire firm's tenuous future.
An associate in the Beverly Hills office who asked not to be identified said local partners decided on the liquidation here after a telephone conference with New York and other national officers failed to determine a closing date for the whole firm.
There was little concern in local legal circles that either the 160 attorneys or their support personnel would be jobless for long. Many of the lawyers, paralegals, secretaries and others have already found work in other firms, and as many as 25 of the lawyers are expected to join partner Jeffrey A. Charlston in a new firm.
On Tuesday, Los Angeles partner Roger W. Rosendahl, who specializes in international commercial finance law and maritime transactions, joined the Los Angeles office of New York-based Donovan Leisure Newton & Irvine.
The announcement followed by one day the notice that seven local Finley Kumble attorneys had joined the Los Angeles office of Pepper, Hamilton & Scheetz.