Milberg Weiss is known for its shareholder suits. Now the 220-lawyer firm is considering a split. Is it money? Ego? Strategic differences?

Milberg Weiss bills itself as the largest contingent-fee plaintiff-side firm involved in securities suits, and it has negotiated well-known settlements for hundreds of millions of dollars with companies including Rite Aid, 3Com, MicroStrategy and Sunbeam. The 35-year-old firm currently represents the lead plaintiff in shareholder suits against Enron and Dynegy.

Senior partners on both coasts said that the dividing of the firm, which has been the subject of rumors among securities lawyers for several months, was not about money or differences in strategy. But lawyers at the firm and others who have worked with the firm noted that its highest-profile partners have quite different styles.

“Were sort of a victim of our own successes,” said William S. Lerach, a partner in the San Diego office of the firm. Milberg Weiss is far larger than most firms that survive by charging contingent fees, he said. “It’s really, really hard to manage something that big and diverse.” Mr. Lerach, who often dresses casually, is known for his enthusiastic, even flamboyant, tough-talking approach. He appeared before television cameras with a box of shredded Enron documents just when the scandal around the company was beginning to unfold.

Melvyn I. Weiss, the more staid but no less aggressive lawyer who would almost certainly be one of the leaders of the New York descendant of the firm, emphasized that Milberg Weiss’s plans were still tentative.

Defense lawyers were surprised by the news but said that the shift would probably not make much difference to corporations.

The New York office is more formal while the offices in California are more casual, one lawyer at the firm noted.

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