Wrongful Death

Over the course of a century, Wolf Block grew into one of Philadelphia’s most famous law firms, a power base for the city’s Jewish elite. So what caused its shocking sudden collapse in March? The behind-the-scenes story of a Philly icon’s demise

Maybe Alderman really is torn up about Wolf Block. But this day, he seems like a man at peace. He has already made a few trips to D.C. to kick-start his new practice in governmental relations; one of his new clients, he tells me, is a company that makes hybrid-car technology. “It’s very exciting to be involved in an issue like auto technology, because it is obviously an issue of crucial importance to the country.”

Alderman runs his right hand through his hair, then adds, “I was referred to the company by Steve Goodman over at Morgan Lewis.”

This would be the same Steve Goodman who used to work at Wolf Block. The Steve Goodman whose departure in 1994 triggered the mass defection of lawyers that brought Mark Alderman into power.

“That’s Wolf Block for you,” Alderman tells me. “Wolf Block, sadly, as an institution, ran its course. But Wolf Block lives on with Mark Alderman and Steve Goodman working together … on hybrid technology. I don’t want to be melodramatic. I don’t know if this is going to change the world. But it’s a damn good step in the right direction.”

Alderman is right that the people trump the institution. A law firm is a strange, liquid thing. It doesn’t own anything. It’s just a group of people. It’s people and a lease and a collective sense of shared history. Nothing more. So if this is how a great and important law firm finally dies — with one guy preparing to call another guy about an electric car — there’s no reason to be shocked. It’s silly to see a law firm as a Promised Land when the true Promised Land is out there, diffuse and gleaming, beckoning to those with the courage to leave sentimental attachments behind.