Two more partners have defected from the Baltimore law firm of Weinberg & Green LLC, capping a year in which the firm prevailed in a potentially lethal malpractice suit by its one-time biggest client and reorganized into a smaller form after a tumultuous 1994.
Partner Arthur Fergenson, a 48-year-old former Yale Law School valedictorian and clerk to former U.S. Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, left this week for the Baltimore office of Ballard, Spahr, Andrews & Ingersoll, the Philadelphia firm announced yesterday.
"He's an extraordinarily talented litigator who will add immeasurably to our commercial litigation department," said Morton P. Fisher Jr., head of Ballard Spahr's Baltimore operation, which will expand to 35 lawyers next week when two attorneys BTC who had worked at Piper & Marbury are scheduled to start work at Ballard Spahr.
Ballard Spahr had only 16 Baltimore attorneys when it opened here in 1992, beginning its office with a corps of lawyers from the defunct Frank, Bernstein, Conaway & Goldman.
The news of Mr. Fergenson's departure follows the defection from Weinberg earlier this month of partner Ava Lias-Booker, a litigator who left to join the Baltimore firm of Gordon, Feinblatt, Rothman, Hollander & Hoffberger.
Weinberg managing general member Charles O. Monk said Ms. Lias-Booker rejoined a group of banking lawyers with whom she had worked at Weinberg before the others defected to Gordon Feinblatt as a bloc in late 1994.
"People sometimes perceive opportunities are better in other locations," Mr. Monk said. "It doesn't mean the firm is having a problem."
Mr. Monk said Weinberg has stabilized at a staff of about 85 lawyers, including approximately 37 partners, down from 148 lawyers as recently as October 1992. A key to the downsizing was the dismissal of as many as 20 lawyers, which the firm disclosed a year ago today in a terse press release that did not mention the precise number of lawyers to be terminated.
That round of cuts followed the voluntary departure of seven partners, including two members of the firm's executive committee, in the months immediately before the announcement.
The primary culprit: a shrinking legal market in Baltimore, complicated by both the recession and takeovers that have forced many large Baltimore businesses to cede decision-making power to new corporate parents based outside the area.
The latter shift has been especially tough on second-tier corporate-oriented firms such as Weinberg and Semmes, Bowen Semmes, another big Baltimore firm that has shrunk dramatically. It also has contributed to a sharp divide between very large firms that are growing, such as Piper & Marbury and the Venable law firm, midsized firms such as Weinberg that are shrinking, and low-overhead boutique firms that compete with midsized firms for local clients.
Mr. Fergenson seemed to cite the strains on midsized regional firms in leaving Weinberg.
"Ballard Spahr has the breadth and depth in its litigation practice that I believe is necessary to manage the increasingly larger and more complex matters in which I have become involved," he said in a statement.
Mr. Monk insisted yesterday that the recent departures are simply business as usual for the revamped Weinberg, rather than a sign of any renewed problems.