After spending more than six decades as one of the renowned family law practices in the country, Trope & Trope LLP is quietly and quickly dissolving.

According to its 89-year-old founder, Sorrell Trope, the firm will officially close on Dec. 31, but he anticipated shuttering the Los Angeles office by late November. Trope said he made the decision in June to dissolve his 67-year-old firm and has been winding down its operations ever since.

Trope said it was difficult to explain why the firm was closing, noting that he would have liked to keep it open. Reluctant to describe the decision-making process leading up to the dissolution of the firm, Trope hinted that the motivation had come from other people in the practice but would not name individuals.

“Obviously, if it was not my desire, it had to be somebody else’s,” Trope said, later adding that if he “had a crystal ball” he might be able to answer why the firm was coming to an end.

According to Trope and former partners, the firm shed its last remaining core of attorneys over the past several months.

Trope and his 99-year-old brother, Eugene Trope, are the sole remaining partners.

Few attorneys contacted for comment would speak on record about why the firm was closing.

But Thomas Dunlap, a partner who left in August with another partner, Anne Kiley, to start their own boutique, KileyDunlapLLP, said that Trope & Trope’s dissolution was largely the product of Sorrell Trope’s inability to continue managing the firm and the absence of a successor to take on the business.

“He wasn’t really capable of doing what he had done in the past in terms of litigation or active participation in a lot of cases,” Dunlap said. “Without his guidance, I think the firm wasn’t capable of continuing as it was.”

According to Trope, business at the firm had remained strong up until the point he decided to dissolve his enterprise.

The firm’s dissolution has been a more or less open secret in the Los Angeles family law community, where many attorneys once worked stints in Trope’s office and still have ties to him.

Larry Ginsberg, a senior partner and founder of Harris Ginsberg LLP who spent roughly 10 years at Trope & Trope, said hundreds of attorneys first learned how to practice family law under Trope’s tutelage.

“I cut my teeth in the family law world based on my experiences there,” Ginsberg said, noting that he now uses a desk given to him by Trope. “I attribute a great amount of my success to everything I learned from him.”

Trope & Trope was founded in 1949, shortly after Sorrell Trope graduated from USC Gould School of Law. Trope made his first public splash representing the real estate developer and financier Mark Taper in a divorce case that was closely followed in LA.

Shortly thereafter, Trope built a client list of celebrities that grew over the years to include A-list talent such as Cary Grant, Britney Spears, Hugh Grant, and Nicolas Cage.

According to Trope, the firm swelled to 30 attorneys at the peak of its heyday — an almost unrivaled size for a family law practice.

Lori Howe, who left the firm earlier this year to start her own practice, said new associates at Trope & Trope were frequently given the opportunity to try cases in court. She also noted that Trope was a brilliant litigator who often drew an audience whenever he appeared in court.

“If Sorrell was trying a case, attorneys would walk in the court just to watch,” Howe said.

Ron Rale, a former partner at the firm, referred to Trope as the “granddaddy” of the modern family law practice and described his impact on the legal industry as difficult to overestimate.

“In historical terms, Sorrell has to be the most preeminent family lawyer in the United States,” Rale said. “The guy is a legend.”

Despite his broad contribution to the greater legal community, Trope failed to build a sustainable legacy for his own firm.

According to Jonathan Fitzgarrald, a managing partner at Equinox Strategy Partners, this is a common plight facing firms led by members of the “baby boom” generation, many of whom came of age in firms where they were expected to work in isolation and adhere to rigid power hierarchies determined by seniority.

Fitzgarrald added that these leaders frequently don’t bother with succession planning until they’re on the verge of retirement, when in reality they need to map out their plans five to 10 years in advance. As a result, firms thriving under a powerful partner can crash soon after that individual leaves.

“In my opinion, way more firms than just Trope & Trope are riding that very fine line between staying in business — holding on for dear life — and closing,” Fitzgarrald said.

Trope said he had been interested in developing a succession plan at various points in his career, but ultimately never created an official one for the firm.

His son, Michael Trope, worked in the firm for several years before leaving to form his own family law boutique, Trope & DeCarolis LLP.

By:  Eli Wolfe of the Daily Journal
November 11, 2016