Comments from an Esteemed Brobeckian

I always hate hearing the word “esteemed,” since many times it is code for “older and wiser” but the adjective really does fit Jayne Loughry.  I did not know Jayne very well while I was at Brobeck and since I made a rather early exit, I did not have direct benefit from all her efforts and hard work as shown on her website Brobeckinfo.  But she seriously rocks in my opinion.  Major rocks.  Boulders.

Jayne made some very incisive comments on yesterday’s End of The Day post and I would hate to see them buried and not come to light as the information is critical, very helpful, and time-sensitive.  I will be posting about some of the ideas she brings up later on today.  So read below.  And if you get a chance, please thank Jayne for, well, being Jayne.

Dear Heller Folks,

As a Brobeck survivor, I’m so very sorry to read about the troubles at your firm.

If you’ve been to the BrobeckInfo site linked elsewhere in this blog, you might recognize my name.  After Brobeck was rammed into the iceberg and destroyed, I got involved in trying to help Brobeck employees with the aftermath.  So I do have a pretty good idea of what you’re feeling right now.

Like you, and for the sake of all Heller employees, clients and vendors, I fervently hope that Heller does not dissolve.  If it does, however, I hope the Heller management and its rank & file partners act responsibly and honorably toward all their employees.

Nevertheless, I believe you’re right to prepare yourselves for the possibility of the worst happening.  Many like to think the despicable behavior of the Brobeck partners was an anomaly, that what happened at Brobeck couldn’t happen anywhere else, but I’m not so sure about that.  Each firm likes to tout its own special culture, but I believe the similarities among big law firms far outweigh the differences, and I believe it is possible that what happened at Brobeck could well happen anywhere in biglawland, including Heller.

With that in mind, I want to share some tips with you so that — if the worst does happen — things might be a bit easier for you than they were for us.  These are things that I wish we had known or done at the beginning.  The tips are sort of like earthquake preparedness kit:  good to have on hand, even though we all hope you’ll never have to use any of it.

1.  Make sure you have originals or copies of ALL documents related to your employment in a safe place  Don’t assume you’d be able to get the documentation or information you might need after the firm tanked.  What kind of documents?  Anything that confirms and/or describes your status, compensation, and benefits of any kind.  Some things will be specific to you, some will be more general.  For example, we had a devil of a time finding copies of the staff and associate bonus plans and stock investment funds.  And, if for some reason you’re not already doing it, take home your pay stubs.  If it’s not on each pay stub/advice, confirm and keep track of your current accrued vacation/PTO.  Have all the details, including contact info, about your 401K.  If you’re a contract employee or any special bonus/compensation has been promised you, keep a copy of the proof at home.  Don’t delay in submitting expense reimbursement forms, and until you’re reimbursed be sure to keep copies of the
forms and receipt(s) at home.  If a document might in any way help you prove the terms of your employment and/or what you’re owed or entitled to receive, you want it.  It’s impossible to list everything that might be needed, so when in doubt copy it and take it home (or if it’s an e-document, flip it to your personal email account).

2.  Similarly, keep copies of any memos or emails management sends you about what’s going on at/with the firm.  I don’t know how likely it is, but it is possible you will be lied to or given promises that won’t be kept.  You might need to prove that.

3.  If the worst comes, being able to communicate with each other will incredibly important.  Copy whatever employee rosters you can and start gathering contact info or building email rings now.  The more of your fellow employees you can reach, the better off you all will be.

4.  Take deep breaths and try to stay calm.  I know this is hard when uncertainty is swirling around you, but the calmer you are the better you can take care of yourself and make good decisions.  Don’t automatically believe every rosy outlook from management or partners, but also don’t automatically believe every scary rumor you hear.  Use this blog or whatever other means you have to share information and try to ferret out the truth.

5.  I’ll continue to hope the Heller partners prove me wrong, nevertheless I think you should be prepared to accept the possibility that if Heller begins to sink the partners for whom you have worked so hard and to whom you have been so loyal will act like weasels and will put their self-interest ahead of any concern for your well-being.  My point here is not to diss the Heller partners, but to warn you of the dangers of putting too much (perhaps any) trust in partners.  In all likelihood, the partners would band together and do what’s best for themselves, regardless of how much it might harm the employees.  So, if the worst does come, don’t waste time waiting for the partners to help you, to make things right, to solve your problems.  Instead, do what they do:  band together and do what’s best for you the employees.  The partners might abandon you, but you’re not alone and you’re not powerless.  You’ve got strength in your numbers.  If you make the effort to help each other, to share information, to work together, and to be kind to one another you can all get through this.  We did, and that’s how we did it.

I hope what I’ve written here is of some help to you.  Moreso, I hope Heller stabilizes and “the worst” never comes to any of you.

Best wishes to you all,  Jayne


4 Responses to “Comments from an Esteemed Brobeckian”

  1. 1 Just me 18 September 2008 at 4:33 am

    I worked with Jayne at Brobeck as well, and while the information she provided was invaluable to many, she struck me as extremely bitter and angry. I don’t mean during the dissolution – but years later. It didn’t help her legacy. Let’s hope that if Heller dissolves, everyone will be able to move on at some point and, over time at least, leave the anger and bitterness in the past.

  2. 2 hellerdrone 18 September 2008 at 6:39 am

    Hey Just me

    I’m sure it’s not just you but that okay – we all appear differently to different people. I think Jayne had a large burden in trying to lead the Brobeck tribe – sure it may have been a mantle she assumed on her own, but I still think she did a great job considering the situation.

    I’m grateful for her comments and advice as one who has been in the trenches. She’s entitled to her bitterness and her anger, if it truly does exist, and she can let go of it on her own time line.

    Me – I’m already over mine to be honest. I’m seeing this as an opportunity for what I really want to do. But remember there are many Hellerites who have been caught totally off-guard by the ramp up in developments over the past two weeks. They and others will undoubtedly go through the same stages that one does with the death of a loved one.

    Heller Drone
    Cruise Director

  3. 3 Jayne Loughry 18 September 2008 at 9:05 am

    Thanks for the kind words, HD, but totally unnecessary. My point in posting was only to share some info that might be helpful to you Heller folks.

    Just Me, I’m not sure “angry and bitter” goes far enough. “Furious and deeply ashamed” is probably more apt. I didn’t set out to be an activist for the employees, but once I let my name be published in The Recorder, I started getting calls and emails from employees (and others harmed by the Brobeck collapse). Most of these folks I’d never known, they were strangers who were hurting and they wanted to tell someone their stories. Some told in tears, some told in fearful whispers, some with overwhelming rage. Over the next few years, I heard hundreds of these stories, so by happenstance and default, I became a repository of the stories. And all those stories made me furious and ashamed that my beloved Brobeck, that my former friends and colleagues — the Brobeck partners — would cause or even allow so much pain to be inflicted on so many people.

    It’s true that in a collapse, even one as bad as Brobeck’s, most people are okay, most can move on quickly with only minor disruptions, but there may still be a lot of people who can’t move on quickly, a lot who are hurt much worse than most. I was lucky enough to be one of the former, but I just didn’t like the idea of forgetting about the latter. And I didn’t like the idea of forgetting about how all employees had been lied to and cheated out of money they were owed. So I ranted and raved and did whatever I could to keep the employees — and the harm done to them — from being ignored by the big cheeses who took control of Brobeck’s considerable assets.

    I wish none of it had happened or that I could have spent those three years tending my garden instead of listening to the stories and ranting & raving, but those are the cards I got dealt. I definitely wish we had had more resources and better tools than my ranting & raving, but we were unprepared for what happened, and the learning curve was steep. I wish I could’ve done more, but if I accomplished anything for the employees, then I have no regrets about my tactics or anyone’s perception of me as angry and bitter.

    It’s possible that you have to live through an experience like Brobeck in order to understand what I’ve written here. If that’s the case, I hope none of you will ever understand. I don’t want any of you to go through it, to know what it’s like. My message is just keep a clear head, hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst. And if the worst happens, don’t blind yourself to the fact that some of you will get hurt worse than others. If you’re one of the more fortunate ones, try to help the less fortunate among you. It’s just the right thing to do.

    Not that it should matter when you all have much more important things to think about, but I’ll close by saying that I’m happily tending my garden far, far away from law firms.

    Again with best wishes, Jayne

  4. 4 Legal Secretary 18 September 2008 at 9:35 am

    Jayne, thanks for your advice. It is extremely helpful. I also am hoping that Heller won’t follow Brobeck’s example – but you are totally right that NONE of the staff should abdicate their responsibility for taking care of themselves.

    Again, thanks for sharing. I’ve gotten a lot of help from that.

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