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

Gittis, along with other ambitious rainmakers like real estate attorney Bob Segal and tax attorney Charlie Kopp, began to shape a more entrepreneurial and autocratic Wolf Block. No longer would lawyers be judged by their ability to craft a sentence; now, the main criterion for advancement was business generation. The firm implemented a tiered system of partnership “groups”; upon becoming a partner, a lawyer would join Group 7, then move up toward Group 1, each group conferring more money and control. There was also a “SuperGroup” for the firm’s very top rainmakers.

Power at Wolf Block was now synonymous with your client list, your “book of business.” And Segal and Kopp were lawyers with huge books of business, which is how, in 1985, when Howard Gittis left Philadelphia for New York City, Segal and Kopp were able to take over Wolf Block. Along with a third man, William Rosoff, they came to be known as the Troika. They were all very good lawyers, especially Rosoff, a tax wizard, and Segal, an Army veteran with a gladiatorial approach to the practice of real estate law: “a Dick Cheney kind of guy,” in the words of one former partner. He was nicknamed Black Bob, and kept an animal skull mounted to the wall of his office — something he had killed on a hunting trip, or had bought. No one was really sure, because no one wanted to stick around Segal’s office long enough to find out. Charlie Kopp was the “nice” one of the three, a backslapper with a perma-tan. Rosoff was a secretive, snarly nerd who acted as an enforcer for the other two; some lawyers called him “The Creature.”

The Troika lacked Gittis’s soft touch. It wasn’t just that they rewarded rainmakers like themselves; it was the ’80s now, and even the most romantic Wolf Blockers realized that there were sound business reasons for trying to think entrepreneurially about the law. A firm had to have clients, or it wouldn’t be a firm. It was a question of attitude. “There was a fear,” says Mel Tarnepol, who worked in Wolf Block’s real estate department from 1979 to 1987, “that if you crossed them in some way — and it wasn’t necessarily the legal work — just that if you crossed them in some way, you would be in jeopardy.” The Troika sneered at the lawyers who weren’t like them but helped make their existence possible — the lawyer’s lawyers who didn’t deal with clients directly but instead wrote genius briefs in the tradition of the Wolf Block artisans of old. The Troika hogged clients and made it tough for young lawyers to develop their own practices: “It was always their client,” says Tarnepol, “even if they hadn’t talked to them in 20 years.” They made life miserable for the old stars of the firm, men like Alan Davis, a nebbishy idealist. (Davis’s treatment at the hands of the Troika embittered his friends to such a degree that when he died in 2007, former Wolf Blocker Arthur Makadon used his eulogy to rip into Kopp and Segal, even as they sat there in the congregation.)

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  • J

    Firm laid off a lot more people than your article acknowledge, in August, December, and February – close to 100 total

  • Anonymous

    Agreed – the firm laid off many more people "under the radar" than was made public. Also, this article rarely mentions the bitterness and anger many workers feel toward firm management. Although many lawyers landed on their feet, many other lawyers, and support staff are left jobless. Some, after working at the firm for decades.

  • Chubbz

    this crap has been going on in the profession for almost 15 years now (see, Mudge Rose). Also, no one really gives a rat's ass about a bunch of overpaid obnoxious douchebags — not like any one of them will be missing any meals anytime soon.

  • Jack

    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.” – These guys are not going to suffer, they made hundreds of thousands of $ per year. They are getting excited about alt.energy but not excited about their former staff who are losing jobs and homes.

  • Joshua

    maybe he could of worked with the hybrids at WB… I would of had a job, and could of bought one.

  • michael

    TYhat is what happens when gentlemen are replaced by robots counting hour production.