Portland law firm Bullivant Houser Bailey has had its share of trouble recently with lawyers leaving­—losing nearly two dozen this year, and 38 since 2007.

Now, Bullivant can't meet its payments to those cashing out their shares in the firm. A confidential Oct. 18 letter obtained by WW says the firm owes former shareholders $1.6 million. Starting in 2012, the letter says, the firm will stretch out payments over 10 years, not the typical five.

Managing shareholder Beth Skillern says Bullivant usually has one or two retirements a year. "When you have 30 shareholders leave, it creates a bigger financial obligation," she says. Bullivant has about 60 lawyers now.

"It didn't shock me," says Dan Lindhal, a former partner who left in 2008. "I know people have noticed that the firm has lost a lot of people."

The letter says in part:

Notwithstanding the many departures, we are confident that the firm and

its remaining 22 capital shareholders will not only survive, but thrive.

To do so, though, We must manage the significant debt the firm was left

with, including the obligation to repurchase your stock.