Debevoise & Plimpton to cut trusts and estates

February 9, 2013 New York based firm Debevoise & Plimpton is eliminating its trusts and estates practice, surprising industry observers in light of the firm’s prestige, size and strong partnership culture. The group’s eight lawyers — including practice head Jonathan J. Rikoon — are currently looking for another firm.

The New York Times points out that trusts and estates practices have been winking out of existence at some large law firms because they are not as lucrative as other more labour intensive practice areas. In addition, the wealthy families that form the client base for a trusts and estates practice balk at the high fees that corporate clients grudgingly accept.

Industry commentators say that one factor in deciding to discontinue the practice group at Debevoise is the firm’s lock-step compensation system, which provided that lawyers were paid according to seniority. Apparently there was some discord generated by the fact that partners with vastly unequal earning power were being compensated similarly.

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