Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach, a prominent law firm specializing in shareholder suits against publicly traded companies, split into two firms, the principals said Monday.
The move also divided the law firm's two best-known partners -- Melvyn Weiss and William Lerach -- after they had worked together for more than two decades, winning billions of dollars in recoveries from lawsuits.
Word that the firm would be broken up surfaced last year.
As a result of the change, which took effect Saturday, Weiss' firm is now called Milberg Weiss Bershad & Schulman, based in New York with 110 lawyers. Lerach's firm, Lerach Coughlin Stoia & Robbins, has 125 lawyers and is based in San Diego.
There had long been reports of friction between Weiss and Lerach, a litigator in the firm's San Diego office with a reputation as a hard-charging attorney who emerged as the top gun in West Coast shareholder lawsuits.
"There's no question that litigation style had an influence," Weiss said.
Weiss said the two firms agreed on a structure in which lawyers already working on a case would continue to work on it, even if that meant having attorneys from both firms on a case. A committee has been set up to deal with any spats.
Before its split, Milberg Weiss was the largest contingency fee-based law firm for plaintiffs in the United States. It was responsible for more than $40 billion in recoveries from lawsuits and was involved in cases against energy companies Enron Corp. and Dynegy Inc. It also represented investors in a lawsuit against Wall Street over alleged rigging of initial public offerings.
Lerach and Weiss have denied that the split was caused by a probe by the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles into allegations that the firm illegally solicited clients through stock brokerages and other law firms.