August 8, 2019, 11:09 am CDT
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LeClairRyan’s partners have voted to dissolve the law firm after a 31-year run.
LeClairRyan began as a legal boutique for startups in 1988 and later became one of the nation’s top 200 law firms based on revenue. Three years ago, the firm had 353 lawyers.
Recently the firm has experienced a string of lawyer departures, including firm co-founder and name partner Gary LeClair, who jumped to Williams Mullen.
The firm said its dissolution committee is working with its lender to ensure continuity of client service. “LeClairRyan is committed to ensuring a seamless transition for clients,” the announcement said.
An arbitration panel report, issued in a gender bias lawsuit against the firm, detailed financial problems at LeClairRyan, according to Law360 coverage.
The report said LeClairRyan paid salaries to lawyers whose collections did not match their overhead; had a “raise culture” of unsustainable, automatic pay hikes; and withheld part of lawyers’ at-risk compensation after budget shortfalls. The firm missed budget goals for four years beginning in 2011, the report said. The report did not address partner finances after 2015.
The arbitration panel had awarded the gender bias plaintiff, Michele Burke Craddock, nearly $275,000 in back pay, $20,000 in emotional distress damages and more than $700,000 in attorney fees. A court has not yet confirmed the award.
Law360 also obtained a letter from LeClairRyan’s general counsel that said so many equity partners had left the firm that it was deferring return of their capital contributions. The firm’s lender said in February that payouts needed to be withheld as a result of loan covenants governing the firm’s leverage ratio, the letter said.
Many former partners told Law360 they didn’t expect to receive return of capital.
LeClairRyan also faces a second gender bias lawsuit, filed by marketing professional Marci Keatts, who says she was paid less than a male colleague, even after she supervised him after a promotion.
Keatts was among more than 300 nonlawyer employees of LeClairRyan who were transferred last year to ULX Partners, a company created as part of a joint venture with alternative service provider UnitedLex. The employees were then leased back to LeClairRyan.
LeClairRyan is contending with yet another lawsuit, according to the Times-Dispatch. The founder of a blood testing company that has since closed, Health Diagnostic Laboratory., claims the law firm’s bad legal advice contributed to the company’s bankruptcy. LeClairRyan is seeking dismissal of the $150 million suit.
The American Lawyer spoke with Bill Brandt, a law firm restructuring expert, who said other midsize law firms may also be struggling.
Law firms about the same size as LeClairRyan—those with about 200 partners—“are very vulnerable right now,” he said. Such firms don’t have the geographic range and practice base to pull in lot of clients, but they can’t manage themselves like a boutique, he told the American Lawyer.