Carbine leaving embattled law firm Weinberg & Green losing longtime chief of litigation department

The professions

July 31, 1996|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,SUN STAFF

The longtime chairman of Weinberg & Green's litigation department plans to leave tomorrow for solo practice, the latest blow to the embattled Baltimore law firm.

James E. Carbine, 51, said he's striking out on his own mainly because he wants a more flexible practice burdened with fewer expenses.

"Like every lawyer in America, I am trying to figure out where the market for legal services is going," Carbine said. "It dawned on me a month ago that my market niche is as a sole practitioner doing business litigation."

He acknowledged concerns about Weinberg's sagging image, which repeatedly has been called into question in recent months by a string of legal malpractice suits and a publicized dispute with the law firm's landlord.

"The difficulty is what I call the 'name' issue," Carbine said. "Everybody connected with Weinberg and Green has been adversely affected. It's hard to quantify, but we all know it hasn't been helpful."

As a litigator, Carbine said, there was a possibility that his practice is particularly vulnerable to fallout from the controversies. He relies on a flow of new business, not the longtime repeat customers served by many of Weinberg & Green's lawyers.

"Referrals have been harder to come by for me the last couple of years," he said.

Carbine's departure comes as the leadership of the 78-year-old Weinberg & Green appears to be mulling its next moves. In the last 18 months, the firm has aggressively downsized, shrinking to about 75 lawyers from as many as 120. Recently, the managing general member, Charles O. Monk II, hinted that the firm is looking toward the future with several options, including ending its current structure and re-forming with fewer lawyers and a new name.

Monk wasn't available for comment yesterday. But Carbine noted that the firm's restructuring plans are moving ahead. A decision about the changes could be completed, he said, within 60 days.

"In an ideal world, they would liked to have made a decision already," he said. "There are a lot of tricky, important issues to be decided. People making these decisions are working as hard as they can. But they don't want to do anything silly or precipitous."

Carbine's career at Weinberg & Green spanned 24 years, as an associate and partner. He was appointed chairman of the firm's litigation department in 1985. The firm was restructured in 1994, and Carbine became head of one of several litigation practice groups.

His areas of practice include civil litigation, complex business litigation and shareholder derivative suits. In his new practice, Carbine expects to focus on business litigation and copyright law.

At Weinberg, colleagues said they understood Carbine's decision to leave.

"Jim has been a dedicated member of the firm for many years. This gives him the opportunity to refocus in his areas of interest," said Harriet Cooperman, a member of the firm's management committee.

Elsewhere, lawyers said losing Carbine was a blow.

"Anytime the chairman of a department leaves, it creates a significant void in the firm," said James Hanks, a partner at Ballard, Spahr, Andrews & Ingersoll, who left Weinberg & Green three years ago. "There are questions why somebody at that level would leave."

But, added Hanks, "There are many good litigators at Weinberg & Green. I'm certain they will be able to fill the positions."

Frank Burch, Piper & Marbury chairman, praised Carbine as a "fine lawyer" and said he was aware Carbine had been "thinking about doing something else."

Carbine will be the only lawyer at his new firm. He doesn't even plan to hire a secretary. "If I have more time than clients, I'll do everything from licking stamps to typing letters," he said with a laugh.

Weinberg has been beset by problems. In May, a jury awarded two of the firm's former clients $25 million amid allegations that Weinberg had a conflict of interest as it handled legal work for their company, GeneSys Data Technologies. The law firm then quickly settled the next phase of the case before the jury got to the issue of punitive damages. That trial no sooner was behind the firm than it became embroiled in a dispute over nonpayment of rent on its downtown offices.

Last year, Weinberg & Green prevailed in a lawsuit brought by a former client, Fairfax Savings Bank. The case proved embarrassing to the firm, however, because a former partner, Stanford Hess, admitted during the trial that he engaged routinely in overbilling the bank.

Testimony at that trial distanced Carbine from that practice. When he learned of the overbilling, Carbine launched an in-house investigation that ended with the firm's repaying $475,000.

Pub Date: 7/31/96

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