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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Law Firm Name Changes: Bad News Ahead

A law firm founder recently announced his retirement after decades running and growing the firm.

The biggest law firms in the world took and retained the surnames of their founders, years and sometimes decades after their retirement and then after their passing.

These law firms, and to a lesser degree other businesses like accounting and engineering firms, realized that the founders carried a brand name with their last names.

So why would a successful law firm change its name when its founder "retired"?

That's the question with the New Jersey law firm Wolff Samson, which has done just that.

The Samson there, firm founder David Samson, is reportedly under federal criminal investigation for matters pertaining to Bridgegate or the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, or something else.

It is rumored -- just speculation -- that Samson could be indicted. (More likely, and my educated guess: A name change means the target knows what is coming, so retirement is a prelude to the revelation of a plea agreement, which will precede an eventual guilty plea to something or other.)

If any of that is likely, that would be the sort of bad news that might precipitate a law firm name change.

But Samson isn't just any partner.

He is a former New Jersey Attorney General, the highest law enforcement official in the state.

Removing his name has major significance. The type of significance that the Stalinist Soviets used to address, by erasing all historical evidence of disgraced or apostate former leaders.

And there is historical precedent in the clubby law firm arena. In the last decade, the securities class action law firm Milberg LLP used to be called Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach. That's until three of the name partners went to federal prison for racketeering conspiracy. And Milberg was no small firm; it was THE king of the hill in the securities class action lawsuit field.

So when a prestigious law firm dumps the names of its founders, you would not be wrong to at least suspect that bad news is waiting in the wings.

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