Lieff-Milberg Courtship Hits the Skids

At the time, it looked like a good deal for everyone: Lawyers at the New York plaintiff giant Milberg Weiss Bershad & Schulman, under indictment for allegations that it paid illegal kickbacks to clients, would get to bring their caseload to a firm that wasn’t radioactive. And that other firm, San Francisco’s Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, would get to fill up its spacious New York offices with experienced securities litigators with a ready-made load of top-notch cases.

Alas, the deal between the two firms isn’t about to happen.

“We’re not having any discussions,” Robert Lieff, the top-of-shingle partner at Lieff Cabraser who had gone back to New York several times to discuss a potential deal, said Monday. “I think they’ve decided to go their own way.”

Lawyers familiar with the negotiations said they ultimately hinged on the willingness of Milberg Weiss’s silverback Melvyn Weiss, who’s spent the past four decades or so keeping his firm at the top of the plaintiff bar. With such a history, it’s a tough decision to relinquish control. But since 2004, when the firm’s West Coast offices — headed by William Lerach — split off to become Lerach Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins, Milberg Weiss hasn’t been the clear top dog in the plaintiff bar, many securities lawyers say. And now that the firm and two of its name partners (Steven Schulman and David Bershad) are under indictment, and Weiss, too, could be charged by LA federal prosecutors, it made sense to many that the firm’s remaining lawyers would make a deal, if only to gain some stability and stem the exodus of clients.

But Weiss has provided financial incentives for lawyers to stay at the firm. And as of now, Lieff said, he’s not about to hand it over to someone else.

Justin Scheck

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