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Pioneering class-action attorney William S. Lerach is expected to leave the firm that bears his name within the next seven months, a partner at the law firm said Thursday. "I anticipate that Bill will retire before the end of the year," said Patrick Coughlin, a co-founder of the San Diego-based Lerach Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins LLP. A call to Lerach's personal attorney, John W. Keker, was not immediately returned. The firm said Friday that Lerach was considering retiring but did not say when.

Lerach's imminent departure comes amid a seven-year investigation by federal prosecutors in Los Angeles into his former law firm.

That firm, Milberg Weiss Bershad & Schulman, was indicted in May 2006 by a federal grand jury in Los Angeles. Prosecutors allege the firm secretly paid more than $11 million in kickbacks to get people to take part in shareholder lawsuits, allowing its lawyers to be among the first to file lawsuits on behalf of shareholders and secure the lucrative position as lead plaintiffs' counsel.

Attorneys Steven Schulman and David J. Bershad, former partners in the firm, were also indicted. They and the law firm have pleaded not guilty.

Lerach, 61, has not been charged in the case.

Lerach remains actively involved in only a handful of cases, Coughlin said. They include some of the firm's highest-profile work, including its case against Enron Corp. Lerach and his partners recouped about $7 billion for Enron shareholders.


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