Wolf Block lawyers face difficult job-hunting climate
From an employee's perspective, the announcement Monday that Wolf, Block, Schorr & Solis-Cohen L.L.P. would soon be closing its doors couldn't have come at a worse time. Law firms in Philadelphia and across the nation have been trimming lawyers and staff for months, and jobs are in short supply.
From an employee's perspective, the announcement Monday that Wolf, Block, Schorr & Solis-Cohen L.L.P. would soon be closing its doors couldn't have come at a worse time.
Law firms in Philadelphia and across the nation have been trimming lawyers and staff for months, and jobs are in short supply.
Yet for lawyers with a deep base of clients, and there are many of those at Wolf Block, there likely will be many suitors.
"I would say that for lawyers with solid business generation, they are going to be highly sought after," said Sheldon Bonovitz, the former chairman of Center City's 650-plus lawyer Duane Morris firm. "For those that don't, they likely will have a hard time, unless they are part of a group."
An intense round of recruiting already has begun, with Center City law firms closely inspecting Wolf Block lawyers who specialize in bankruptcy, trust and estates, and intellectual property matters, among other practice areas. Lawyers who have clients that generate $1 million or more in revenues each year are likely to receive multiple offers.
"If some of these folks would consider us, I am sure we would be talking to them," said Thomas Decker, president and CEO of Cozen O'Connor, a 500-lawyer Center City firm with offices around the country. "And I am sure other firms will want to talk to them as well."
In a stunning announcement, Wolf Block's leadership said Monday that the firm's partners had voted to shut down the practice after 106 years of operation. The firm said that it had been hobbled by the departures of top partners who had taken their business to other firms.
In addition, Wolf Block's main lender, Wells Fargo, in late February sought to impose tough new conditions, including a requirement that individual partners sign for loans.
That condition proved unacceptable to partners who were worried that additional departures would leave a dwindling number of lawyers responsible for repaying debts.
Lawyers at other city firms said that even Wolf Block's real estate practice group, which has fallen on hard times with the troubled housing and commercial real estate markets, likely would attract interest because it was so highly regarded.
"That [real estate] was the driving engine of the firm" said Robert Fox, managing partner of Manko Gold, Katcher & Fox L.L.P., who once worked at Wolf Block. "The talent in that department is so great. It would be an opportunity."
It is the young associate lawyers without loyal clients of their own who will face a more difficult job search. Some might land on their feet if they leave with a practice group that is led by a lawyer who can attract lucrative clients. But without that kind of backing, in a job market where thousands of lawyers nationally have been let go in recent months, they will face stiff competition.
Support staff likely will also have a harder time of it because law firms have been cutting deep into their ranks of administrative workers.
"Those lawyers with portable books of business are going to do just fine," said Mark Silow, a corporate lawyer and administrative partner of Fox Rothschild, a 400-lawyer firm based in Center City.
But, he added, "It is very difficult for staff people" to find jobs.
Wolf Block's leadership said that the firm would be able to pay creditors and unwind its affairs in an orderly fashion, and that unlike at other troubled firms that have recently gone under, there was no need for a bankruptcy filing in the immediate future.
But in one troubling note for retired Wolf Block lawyers, a firm insider said that its retired lawyers face losing their pensions. That is because the firm is funding its pension costs out of current revenues, and has no long-term investments for its pension plan. Once the firm ceases operation, there will no longer be money to pay for the pensions.