The old-line Los Angeles law firm of Tuttle & Taylor, which just last year had received the Constitutional Rights Foundation's "Firm of the Year" Award, has closed its doors a victim of increasing competition and rising tension among its partners.

The firm's sudden demise reflects growing pressure on similar small and mid-sized general practice law firms. The industry is quickly evolving into a two-tier landscape populated by boutique firms with a particular specialty practice and global general practice giants.

"For an old-line established firm like Tuttle & Taylor that thought of itself as a full-service firm, the challenge is to adapt to being a boutique firm with a focus on a relatively small number of practice areas where it excels," said Beck. "A relatively small firm like Tuttle & Taylor can be successful, but its partners must all be on the same page."

Clearly, that was not the case at Tuttle & Taylor. In recent years, differences developed among the partners about how the firm could best adapt its practice to rapidly changing business conditions and increasing competition from global giants.

"(Tensions grew) between one group to whom it was most important to maintain our culture as a 'lifestyle' firm emphasizing collegiality, relatively low billable hours overall, and flexibility to work part time," Beck explained, "and another group that wanted to be more businesslike and profitable."

Tuttle & Taylor's closure on Nov. 30 stands in sharp contrast to the rapid growth and profitability of some of the nation's largest law firms, like New York-based Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, which grossed more than $1 billion last year, and Baker & McKenzie, which employs over 2,700 attorneys worldwide.

In a bid to compete, major firms are joining forces, as evidenced by last week's merger of San Francisco's 126-year-old Pillsbury Madison & Sutro and New York's Winthrop Stimson Putnam & Roberts, the nation's first East Coast-West Coast merger and the largest head-to-head merger of U.S.-based firms.

The new firm, which will open for business on Jan. 2 under the name Pillsbury Winthrop, will have over 850 attorneys and is expected to gross more than $400 million in revenue next year, according to John Pritchard, vice chairman of the new firm.

"Our clients are consolidating and globalizing, and our competition is consolidating and globalizing, and we believe that to remain competitive we have to do the same thing," Pritchard said. "Large as we are, we risk being marginalized as this process of consolidation and globalization among law firms continues."

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