Frank, Bernstein, Conaway & Goldman -- the venerable Baltimore law firm that has been the subject of consolidation rumors for months -- today announced the departure of nearly 10 percent of its attorneys in a restructuring.
The firm's partners approved a plan that will see seven partners and seven associates cut from the 144-attorney payroll.
"As our practice changes, we must make difficult decisions . . . All of those affected are good people and good attorneys. Unfortunately, they simply do not fit with our plans for the future," said Shale D. Stiller, the chairman.
The firm will also close its Towson office and transfer its employees downtown.
The cutback follows the termination of seven associates at the end of May, and is sure to fuel speculation about the future of one of the city's largest law firms.
But Stiller said the firm is not losing money and is taking these cost-cutting steps to remain efficient.
The firm is highly respected for its real estate practice, but the specialty has suffered along with the region's real estate slump. Stiller said the firm will remain active in real estate and all its current lines of business.
Three months ago, the firm began a strategic evaluation that included the election of a 13-member management committee and the hiring of a consultant. The firm has decided to focus on specialties that have proven profitable: international, intellectual property, high technology and government contracts law.
A few weeks ago, the firm said it had conducted preliminary discussions about a merger with several other firms, including Piper & Marbury. But those talks have ended with no plans for a merger, said Piper partner Decatur Miller.
"Nothing did come of that. We both took a fairly preliminary look at that and both firms decided that it wasn't in our best interests," Miller said.
Stiller said he will continue to examine merger offers but, "We are not actively seeking out anybody.
One observer of the local legal community, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the decision to downsize demonstrates the firm's desire to avert a more catastrophic fate -- such as dissolution or absorption by another firm -- which had been rumored.
A year ago, Frank, Bernstein opened an office in Washington at the same time that it broke ties with a Tyson, Va.-based firm that it had joined about five years ago. Frank, Bernstein now has offices in Baltimore, Columbia, Bethesda and Frederick.