Law Firm: Dissolving With Dignity

DISSOLVING A LAW FIRM WITH DIGNITY

Preserving a Future for Disaffected Partners

Following the departure of several ranking partners and the resignation of its senior managing partner, the remaining members of this venerable Boston law firm decided that it would close its doors. Once the decision was made, the manner in which the news was communicated and the means by which the dissolution was accomplished became critically important. The firm's remaining attorneys and employees would be seeking positions at new firms and their prospects would undoubtedly be enhanced by their ability to take respective clients with them. The Boston legal community is very closely knit but exceedingly competitive. Its rumor mill is very efficient and information about a firm being in jeopardy constitutes an open invitation to have the troubled firm's clients raided. For all of these reasons, the winding up of the firm's affairs needed to be orderly and expeditious, and communication about its dissolution needed to be surgically precise.

Background and Situation Analysis

The firm was an institution in the plaintiff bar in Boston. When a group of its key members decided to depart and take their practice with them, the firm was irreparably damaged.

Despite all of the restructuring that occurs in corporate America, the dissolution of a long-established law firm is unique and newsworthy. Because law firms trade on their reputations for integrity and professionalism and operate in a world guided by principles of privileged relationships and confidentiality, communications programs tend not to be in place and damage control protocols are not "second nature."

The Plan

When N&A was engaged, our challenge was threefold:

  1. Assist individual partners in preserving their job prospects by protecting the reputation of the dissolving firm and preventing client attrition.
  2. Assist in adequately informing employees and stakeholders in the firm.
  3. Assist in the orderly dissolution of the firm by ensuring that no leaks occurred, "no dirty laundry was aired" and that information was disseminated only on an "as appropriate" basis.

The key was to control the communications process. Our assignment began on a Thursday evening. By Sunday evening, a plan was in place-developed jointly with our client-comprising a protocol of announcements to the firm's employees and clients and to the press.

Armed with key messages crafted by Nicolazzo & Associates and a Q&A script, our client notified its employees in a firm-wide meeting held on Monday afternoon. Employees were assured of assistance in securing new employment and incentivized to assist in the transition. Immediately thereafter, partners notified all clients by telephone of the firm's dissolution. Clients were assured of continuity in the quality of legal service provided and encouraged to continue their relationships with respective attorneys of the firm. The partners then sent follow-up letters offering greater detail.

N&A then informed the appropriate representatives of the media, some of whom had been briefed in advance. A critical positive media placement was Lawyers' Weekly.

Results

  • Proactive media contact preempted sensationalized media coverage of the dissolution of the firm and helped to quell rumor-mill speculation about the reasons for its demise.
  • Coverage was generally responsible and the firm was not described as "having failed."
  • Client defections appeared to have been minimized and the hoped-for retention of relationships by respective attorneys at their new firms.

The firm closed its doors with the dignity appropriate to its history.