San Francisco firm Heller Ehrman LLP's demise may not spell trouble for the firm's partners, but associates might have a tougher time finding a soft landing in these hard times.

The L.A. office of the firm, which disbanded amid declining revenues as profit-making partners left in droves, employed about 40 attorneys.

Heller Ehrman partners are likely to be picked up by other law firms, but industry analysts said the weak economy won't make it easy for the firm's L.A. associates to find jobs.

Peter Zeughauser, a Newport Beach-based legal consultant, said law firm revenues are down compared with the same time last year, which is forcing firms to watch their bank accounts closely.

"It's not a good job market for an associate to be in right now," Zeughauser said. "Firms' first desire is going to be to keep their own associates busy rather than hire new ones."

Nancy Sher Cohen joined the Los Angeles office of Proskauer Rose LLP last week. Cohen, who managed Heller Ehrman's L.A. office, joined Proskauer along with fellow partner Rene Siemens and senior associate Ronald Valenzuela. The trio focuses their practice on insurance recovery, toxic tort litigation and consumer class actions.

Other Heller Ehrman partners have also found new homes. Former Heller Ehrman partner Robert Badal joined the Los Angeles office of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP.

General Dispute

General Growth Properties Inc. may owe L.A. developer Rick Caruso big bucks, but it's not paying up without a fight.

Caruso emerged victorious last year after a Los Angeles state jury awarded Caruso Affiliated Holdings LLC $89.2 million in the company's suit against mall developer General Growth.

But the Chicago-based company isn't going along with it.

General Growth filed a brief with the state Court of Appeal earlier this month, claiming that the jury's verdict should be reversed because the company wasn't able to properly defend itself against claims that it intentionally interfered in a potential lease agreement between Caruso Affiliated and the Cheesecake Factory Inc.

Caruso Affiliated won in state court after arguing that General Growth intimidated the Cheesecake Factory while Caruso was trying to lease space to the restaurant chain at Americana at Brand, which is next to General Growth's Galleria mall in Glendale.

"The case that was tried was not the case that went to the jury," said Cindy Tobisman, an appellate attorney at Greines Martin Stein & Richland LLP, representing General Growth. "There is no evidence that General Growth knew there was a contract it was interfering with."

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