Is Anderson Killed? Some Are Counting the Days

Can Anderson Kill & Olick, which fired 22 partners on March 11, survive? Will the freewheeling law firm that briefly included Rudolph Giuliani among its partners (“we’re all partners here”), hack it in the pragmatic legal market?

Right now, new managing partner Jeffrey Glatzer–a loan workout specialist who was not just the best, but pretty much the only, candidate for the job–is keeping the operation together with nothing short of bubble gum and Band-Aids, it seems. It can’t be an easy job, convincing people that you’ll still have a going concern in six months. Although goodness knows, he’s trying: He’s taken to sending pep talk e-mails to other firm lawyers and recently called everyone together in the firm’s library to encourage them to buckle down during these rocky times.

The March 11 firings were an effort to control costs and focus the firm on more lucrative business–to “edit” the 30-year-old firm down to its essential core, in the jargon of its managers. What it means on the payroll is 107 lawyers (and shrinking) in five offices, down from the peak of 240 in 1993. The firm also skipped bonus payments to lawyers at the end of last year, in an effort to please the firm’s creditors. And, on March 24, the firm gave notice to at least two dozen members of its nonlawyer staff.

The cuts have left uncertainty and even demoralization among the survivors, only adding to the firm’s woes. “Nobody’s really working, everyone’s out looking for jobs, so no one’s billing. And then how will everyone pay the bills?” observed one former colleague. It has not helped that many of the fired partners haven’t left; many are sticking around until they land new work.

Founder and $30 million mega-rainmaker Gene Anderson isn’t panicking. But he’s candid about some of the firm’s problems. Never a stickler for the details of firm management, he has kept the firm focused on its core business, suing insurance companies. But that work has remained fairly stagnant, and attempts to diversify were slow and halting.

Then there was the firm’s propensity toward pro bono work, even as the paying work failed to grow enough to sustain all those free legal hours. Mr. Anderson told N.Y. Law that roughly 30 percent of the firm’s work had become pro bono.

Mr. Anderson, the son-in-law of Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, has endorsed the firm’s recent changes, albeit with sadness. “I’m committed to providing free legal services, because lawyers are about money and power and that doesn’t strike me as totally right. I overindulged for a while, and now I have to underindulge,” he said. Then he quoted Shakespeare’s “sweet are the uses of adversity.”

Mr. Anderson will continue to sue insurance companies, even if he has to do it from the back seat of a junked Pinto. “I have better survival instincts than most people in the world,” he noted, “and some people will find it better for them to practice law elsewhere.”

But no one at Anderson Kill seems exempt from the tumult. Arthur Olick, whose name is on the door, is becoming “of counsel” to the firm. That means, he’ll give up his corner office to Bob Horkovich. And not just his office; his secretary was given a pink slip, too.

Others still on board are trying to face the future. Firm spokesman Allan Ripp said that a merger is “not in the cards.” What remains, however, in the eyes of most observers, are just three reliable rainmakers: Mr. Anderson, Mr. Glatzer and J. Andrew Rahl Jr.

Anthony Princi, who brings in roughly $1 million, may be on his way out. Headhunters have asked other firms if they would be interested in him, said former partners. (Headhunters are not supposed to make inquiries using someone’s name unless they have secured the person’s permission.) Mr. Princi declined to comment.

Yet, it is not all bleak at Anderson Kill. Perhaps the changing season has boosted optimism, but some of the firm’s young lawyers are telling friends they believe the worst is behind. There are a few signs that’s true. The firm filed an attention-grabbing case against Ernst & Young on March 29 for allegedly botching an audit for a Brooklyn electronics wholesaler. Its Chicago office has gotten a big new insurance case. And the firm is banking that its longstanding insurance clients will stay in the fold. But some are keeping their eyes on the bottom line. Said one former Anderson Kill lawyer: “I really don’t see how much longer they’ll be around.”

Already they’re getting ready to leave one of their three floors at 1251 Avenue of the Americas. When now-deposed managing partner Larry Kill walked N.Y. Law through the library during an office tour in December, he gestured toward empty tables and corners used as storage areas. “That’s something of a waste there,” Mr. Kill said at one point. Look for a book sale soon.

Bill Your Neighbor

Eighty-one members of the bar were arrested for disorderly conduct on Lawyers Day at 1 Police Plaza on March 21. A number of the attorneys told N.Y. Law that they were doing it in solidarity with clients who had been harassed by the police. Some of the arrestees used their time behind bars to plan their defense at their joint summons court hearing on April 26. Solo practitioner John Ware Upton suggested one idea: The arrested attorneys could line up all in a row. When the judge asks who is representing the charged, the lawyer accused will point to his or her neighbor. But what happens to the last one in? Pro se?

Time went fairly quickly for those who ended up in custody at the Pitt Street station house of the Seventh Precinct. State Comptroller Carl McCall served as emcee as several arrestees delivered speeches. While guards blocked the door, comedian Dick Gregory opened up with five minutes of Viagra jokes, before noting more seriously (and à la Giuliani) that police officers do a job that “none of us would or could do” and a job, moreover, that leaves them with high rates of alcoholism and domestic violence. Some of the high-powered politicians were listening, although most were busy talking on their cell phones pretty much their entire stay in custody.

Many of the arrested lawyers had a reunion of sorts at the annual dinner of the New York City chapter of the National Lawyers Guild on March 26. There, they could bid on a blown-up, signed-by-the-artist poster of the cops’ least favorite New Yorker cover, the one showing an officer shooting a city resident like a wooden duck in a gallery. Radio-shock-jock litigator Ron Kuby took the bidding to $150, but he lost out to solo practitioner John Lewis, who triumphed with a nod at $160.

Trade Secrets of a Defense Lawyer

Each year for the past 10, the elite New York Council of Defense Lawyers has honored at a luncheon one of the city’s premier, top-dollar advocates. In the past, the legal elite have noshed on behalf of Arthur Liman, Gustave Newman, Peter Fleming Jr. and Milton Gould. This year, that special city honoree was someone who practices in New Jersey!

Not that it should be a surprise that 500 of the city’s biggest billers showed up at the Grand Hyatt on March 24 to anoint Theodore Wells Jr. of Roseland, N.J.-based Lowenstein Sandler. Mr. Wells (the first African-American honoree, and the first under 50) has gotten acquittals for former Representative Floyd Flake, former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy, former Labor Secretary Raymond Donovan and former New York State Chief Judge Sol Wachtler. Part of Mr. Wells’ genius is obviously picking the right clients, most distinctly the four tallow merchants who were indicted in 1982 for price-fixing sales to Middle East governments. His rationale, as he explained to fellow lawyer Paul Grand: “Do you really think you’ll get a jury in New York to convict four old Jews for conspiring under the Pulaski Skyway to cheat a bunch of Arabs?”

Aspiring heavy hitters, and their spouses, might want to know the other secrets of his success, as relayed by Mr. Grand: (1) Before any big trial, Mr. Wells holes up in a hotel spa for a month, boning up, working out and eating a nearly macrobiotic diet; (2) Mr. Wells has a probing, analytic mind; and (3) his elderly mother sits in the gallery at all of his trials, smiling at the jurors whenever he’s talking. Onetime client Mr. Espy flew up to deliver a Psalms-inflected oration praising Mr. Wells as the next best thing to the Savior, at least for beating a 39-count indictment.

On the way to the coat room, some of the city’s most accomplished, competitive trial lawyers shared what they really thought. One lawyer said he wished he could speak like Mr. Espy. Mentioning Charles Stillman, another former honoree who delivered a speech, a colleague made a yapping gesture with his hand. “Charlie just didn’t shut up,” he said.

Guccione Update

Score one Pyrrhic victory for the Gooch. In a case that N.Y. Law first wrote about in November, Penthouse magazine publisher Robert Guccione Sr. sought to evict his son Anthony from a co-op on Greene Street. The son claimed that his father had given him the loft, which he has lived in for 12 years, as a college graduation present. Civil Court Judge Shirley Werner Kornreich decided otherwise on March 15, so now the father can throw his son out on the street.

The Sicilian flesh magnate wants to cut off his son for–this is all in another, Federal suit he filed–conspiring to cheat him out of his Internet profits. “Tony has been a very bad boy,” one eviction trial witness recounted Mr. Guccione as saying. “I brought him along in the company too quickly. I overindulged him, which contributed to his poor judgment.” After all, a man’s got to know which indulgence should be the last indulgence.

You can reach N.Y. Law by e-mail at mfleischer@observer.com.