After spending his entire 52-year career at Brinks, Hofer, Gilson & Lione, name shareholder Roy E. Hofer resigned from the firm today.
The move follows a nearly two-year dispute between top management and four longtime lawyers. Officials led by President James R. Sobieraj proposed cutting costs by shifting a group of senior shareholders above age 65 off the firm’s basic health insurance plan, Hofer said.
“The firm’s current management has adopted a new firm culture that is inconsistent with my personal values,” Hofer said today.
The Chicago-based firm, founded in 1917, is one of the nation’s largest intellectual property firms, with about 160 lawyers working in seven offices.
Sobieraj said today the firm deeply appreciates the many good things Hofer did for its clients and the firm in the past.
“We are saddened to see him leave,” Sobieraj said. “Management respectfully disagrees with Roy’s characterization of the matter regarding health insurance.
“Firm management has always acted in the best interest of all firm employees. As we look to the future, our firm remains committed to providing excellent service to our clients and continuing to make the firm a great place to work.”
The unrest began in late 2011, Hofer said, when nine shareholders above the age of 65 received a memo from the firm’s chief human resources manager that essentially said they had to retire because they did not bill enough hours.
The dispute advanced when a group of four shareholder lawyers — Hofer, 77; Henry L. Brinks, 88; Jack C. Berenzweig, 70; and Jerold A. Jacover, 68 — hired attorneys to represent them in settlement discussions with the firm’s lawyers. Hofer and Jacover are past presidents of the firm.
The four lawyers retained James R. Figliulo, a partner at Figliulo & Silverman P.C., and Jill B. Berkeley, a Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg LLP partner.
In April 2012, while settlement negotiations were ongoing, the firm’s board of directors removed the four lawyers from the firm’s basic insurance plan with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois with less than two weeks’ notice, Hofer said.
That action by firm management was unprecedented, he said.
“The firm had never before removed any partner or shareholder from the firm’s basic health insurance plan because he or she was not perceived to be working enough hours,” Hofer said. “This draconian action was a significant change in the firm’s culture and would have an impact on all shareholders, lawyers and full-time staff in the future.”
In October 2012, through the efforts of attorneys for the four lawyers, the firm’s health insurance provider told the firm that those four lawyers should be reinstated to its basic health insurance plan, Hofer said. All nine of the lawyers over age 65 were reinstated to the plan at that time, he said.
“We pushed back not merely to protect ourselves, but because it was crucial to preserve the firm’s culture by committing to include all shareholders, associates and full-time staff in the firm’s basic health insurance plan,” Hofer said.
“We proposed a resolution to that effect and no board member supported that resolution.”
The other three lawyers — Brinks, Berenzweig and Jacover — declined to comment about the dispute.
Brinks, however, called Hofer a “stalwart” and a “big rainmaker” at the firm. Brinks, who worked with Hofer on some cases, described him as an excellent litigator and detailed lawyer.
“I admire him,” Brinks said. “I’m very sorry to see him go and I wish him the best.”
Hofer began working at the firm after graduating from the Georgetown University Law Center in 1961. He served as the firm’s president from 1996 to 2000.
He is a past president of The Chicago Bar Association and the Federal Circuit Bar Association.
About a decade ago, Hofer started working primarily as a neutral in IP cases.
Hofer now plans to launch his own law practice, working in Chicago and at his west suburban office.
“I’m going to be doing what I’ve been doing since I gave up being a first-chair litigator,” Hofer said. “I am going to be consulting in district and appellate court cases and being a mediator, arbitrator, special master and early neutral evaluator.”
When asked if there could be a lawsuit resulting from the dispute, Hofer said, “It remains to be seen.”