Spat Over Older Partners' Benefits Roils Brinks Hofer
Roy Hofer celebrated his 78th birthday Thursday—a day after launching his own solo shop and a month after leaving the firm that was his professional home for more than 50 years.
A veteran intellectual property lawyer and past president of the Chicago Bar Association, Hofer was until last month a name partner at the Chicago-based IP boutique long known as Brinks, Hofer, Gilson & Lione, having joined one of its predecessor firms in 1961.
Hofer, Brinks Hofer's president from 1995 to 1999, resigned from the 150-lawyer firm abruptly on September 9 in a move that, as reported at the time by the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, capped a nearly two-year battle pitting him and three other longtime partners against top management.
“The firm’s new management is inconsistent with my values,” Hofer told The Am Law Daily on Thursday when asked to explain why he left the Brinks Hofer partnership to establish his own practice. “We had a fabulous tradition of loyalty to our shareholders and staff, but the culture changed where money became the only thing of importance.”
In Hofer’s view, his ties to Brinks Hofer—a 96-year-old firm that since his departure has rebranded itself as Brinks Gilson & Lione—began to fray when management decided in late 2011 to drop nine partners over the age of 65 from the firm’s health insurance plan.
“They basically decided that seniors who weren’t working enough hours were not entitled to be covered under the firm’s basic health insurance plan,” Hofer says. “Never had anyone been kicked out of the plan over hours.”
Hofer and Brinks Hofer partners Henry Brinks, Jack Berenzweig, and Jerold Jacover hired lawyers and insurance consultants to press the firm to restore their medical coverage. (As noted by the Daily Law Bulletin, James Figliulo and Jill Berkeley of Chicago’s Figliulo & Silverman and Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg represented the four partners.)
Hofer says Brinks Hofer's health insurance carrier, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, asked the firm last October to add the four partners—as well as the five other older partners who didn't object or hire counsel when their coverage was yanked—back to its health plan. Nonetheless, Hofer says tensions between himself and firm management lingered.
As for his fellow dissidents, Brinks and Berenzweig chose to stay with the firm, but Jacover—Brinks Hofer's president from 2000 to 2005—left last week to become an IP of counsel in the Chicago office of Foley & Lardner. He declined to comment about why he made the move.
The boutique—which in addition to its Chicago base has outposts in Detroit, Indianapolis, North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park, Salt Lake City, Washington, D.C., and Ann Arbor, Michigan—has been led since last year by partner James Sobieraj.