Summary List Placement
For a high-flying law-firm partner, moving from one firm to another can be risky. The firm a lawyer leaves behind could fight tooth and nail over clients’ loyalties, and the new firm may not be the cultural or business fit the lawyer thought it was.
But the risks didn’t stop more than 1,700 law-firm partners from moving in 2020, according to data from Leopard Solutions. Despite the pandemic, which ground hiring to a halt in late March, most law firms righted themselves over the summer and resumed searching for good candidates by the fall, and notable moves took place in New York, Silicon Valley, and beyond.
While many firms have expanded their ranks of business-development and client-relations professionals in recent years, hiring so-called lateral partners is a key part of how most firms grow. Michael Ellenhorn, whose company Decipher helps law firms evaluate prospective hires, said partners who moved among the highest-grossing 200 law firms from 2014 through 2018 brought more than $17 billion in business with them, making them the biggest driver of revenue growth.
The financial stakes are high on both sides. The average law-firm partner made over $1 million in 2019, according to data released this month by the recruiting firm Major, Lindsey & Africa. But it often takes about three months for a partner to start producing revenue for their new firm. Joining a new firm also often requires a partner to borrow hundreds of thousands of dollars for a capital contribution, and getting one’s contribution returned from the firm a partner left behind can take years.
Pay varies widely too. A typical law firm partner in Silicon Valley is paid more than twice as much as a top one in Atlanta, and boardroom lawyers often make hundreds of thousands of dollars more than courtroom lawyers. Race and gender compensation gaps also persist, the Major, Lindsey & Africa data showed.
For most of the headhunters interviewed for this story, their efforts to place candidates came to a halt for part of March and April, as law firms across the US tried to assess what effect the pandemic would have on their business. But since then, law firms have been resuming searches, interviews, and hiring. Overall partner moves are down 27% from last year, according to Leopard Solutions, as are moves by counsel-level attorneys. Law firm associate mobility has fallen even further, with firm-to-firm moves by junior lawyers down 35%.
Some recruiters said 2020 included some unusual trends, with placements of in-house lawyers or partners at boutique firms and midsize law firms outpacing Big Law hiring.
Carolyn Aberman, a recruiter at the Lucas Group in Chicago, said some big firms may have been wary of the reputational hit that could come from layoffs and chose to reallocate lawyers from slower practices to busier ones. Smaller firms usually lack that kind of flexibility, she said, and can at least theoretically make hiring decisions quickly.
“As they got busy or stayed busy, they didn’t necessarily have additional man power,” she said.
But others said they found the biggest firms in Big Law — those with hundreds of millions or billions of dollars in annual revenue — were as receptive as they ever had been. Some practice areas, like bankruptcy, white-collar defense, data privacy, and specific corporate niches, were in-demand in 2020 and will continue to be next year, several recruiters predicted.
“Q1 of 2021, in my opinion, is going to be a notable quarter with respect to big-ticket, high-end lateral-partner movement,” Scott Yaccarino of Empire Search Partners said.
Insider spoke with 18 recruiters across the US to gauge the must-know partner moves in 2020, based on whose transitions were likely to have a big effect on the firms they joined or left, and included only those whose significance was mentioned by multiple people. Some partners are reputed to be key rainmakers — having relationships with clients whose legal bills top $10 million per year — while others have special skills that could benefit a firm’s existing client base.
Craig Martin, Jenner & Block to Willkie Farr & Gallagher
Craig Martin was in the chairman’s seat at Jenner & Block for only a year before he stepped down. A month later, it was announced that he had joined Willkie Farr & Gallagher, a white-shoe firm with its roots in New York, as its Midwest chairman.
Martin, whose clients reportedly include Aon and the Crown family, and also include Scientific Games and Northern Trust, initially moved over with five partners. Willkie’s Chicago office has since grown to have about 34 lawyers, according to its website, most of them from Jenner. Bobbie McMorrow, a recruiter and consultant in California, brokered the deal.
Going by the revenue-per-lawyer numbers at Jenner and Willkie reported by The American Lawyer, the group brings in roughly $33 million to $43 million in annual revenue. Martin declined to comment on the numbers but said his group was “very busy” going into the end of the year.
David Willingham, Quyen Ta, Damien Marshall, and 14 others, Boies Schiller to King & Spalding
Boies Schiller’s partner exodus came in waves, including the move of at least 17 partners to King & Spalding. It started when most of the firm’s Los Angeles office and San Francisco partner Quyen Ta moved in April. Most of the lawyers who moved joined Boies when it merged with Caldwell Leslie & Proctor, a firm known for its work on investigations and environmental disputes, as well as its clients in the entertainment industry.
The moves continued over the summer, with Damien Marshall, who had been a member of a four-lawyer management committee at Boies Schiller, moving with three other partners in New York. Two other partners who left Boies in Los Angeles, Christopher Caldwell and Leslie Hammer, plan to join King & Spalding later, according to the Daily Journal, which would bump the total to 19.
Reginald Brown and others, WilmerHale to Kirkland & Ellis
Reginald Brown, a member of Blackstone’s board who led WilmerHale’s financial-institutions group, has helped an array of clients through regulatory inquiries and congressional hearings. His move — along with partners Daniel Chaudoin, Jeremy Dresner, and Daniel Kearney — raised eyebrows across Washington, DC, with one recruiter saying that several firms had tried to convince him to join over the years.
Brown’s move was consistent with efforts by other firms to bolster their ranks of experienced investigations and regulatory-defense lawyers. Several recruiters said the firms they worked with expected enforcement activity to rise under the Biden administration, with Major, Lindsey & Africa’s Jeffrey Lowe saying white-collar defense and “fraud are still very hot and are likely to get even hotter next year.”
Bankruptcy additions, Sidley Austin and Ropes & Gray to White & Case
White & Case made several notable hires in the bankruptcy space this year. In October, the firm announced it hired Jessica Boelter and Bojan Guzina, who led Sidley Austin’s bankruptcy practice, and Michael Andolina, the deputy group chair of Sidley’s Chicago litigation team. Their recent debtor clients have included the Boy Scouts of America and Mattress Firm, and they’ve represented creditors of Highland Capital Management.
The firm rounded out additions to its bankruptcy team in December with the hiring of Keith Wofford and Stephen Moeller-Sally, who represent creditors, from Ropes. Their clients have included Elliott Management Corp. in the bankruptcies of Windstream Holdings Inc. and PG&E and unsecured creditors of the oil-field-services company Weatherford International.
Wofford was also the Republican candidate for New York attorney general in 2018, losing to Letitia James. He disclosed having earned at least $4.3 million from Ropes the year before, nearly double the firm’s average partner profit of $2.3 million that year.
Edward Lee, Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz to Kirkland & Ellis
It’s rare for any young partner to leave Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, and Edward Lee was described by several people as a rising star with a hand in big deals. His bio on Kirkland & Ellis’ website lists numerous transactions for the military contractor Raytheon Technologies and one of its predecessors, United Technologies, as well as roles in deals worth over $300 billion in the past two years.
Lee’s move was seen by some commentators as the latest blow to lockstep compensation, a system where partners are paid by their seniority rather than by factors like the business they bring in. While a handful of very profitable law firms — including Wachtell, the most profitable of them all — still use it and say it encourages teamwork, the vast majority of firms don’t.
“Lockstep is becoming a thing of the past,” Gloria Sandrino, the global chair of recruiting at Lateral Link, said. “This move is representative of that evolution away from lockstep.”
Since moving to Kirkland, Lee helped Genius Sports Group go public via a merger with a special-purpose acquisition company in a deal that valued Genius at $1.5 billion, according to an announcement and his firm bio.
Laura Friedrich, Shearman & Sterling to Willkie Farr
Laura Friedrich led Shearman & Sterling’s investment funds team before moving to Willkie’s asset-management group, where she advises private-equity sponsors and investors in the formation of funds. She has counseled clients including International Finance Corp., GTIS Partners, TRG Management, Credit Suisse Asset Management and Citi Private Bank, according to Law.com.
Three recruiters said her addition to Willkie’s growing private-equity funds and transactions bench was a noteworthy one. In the months after her departure from Shearman, two other leading lawyers in that firm’s funds practice moved to Sidley Austin.
The new partners of Freshfields’ Silicon Valley office, from Davis Polk, Sidley Austin, and Wilson Sonsini
Silicon Valley has historically been a very tough nut to crack for out-of-town law firms. Excellent corporate partners, who understand dealmaking in tech or life sciences, are said by partner recruiters to be key to getting a toehold and in short supply. Firms with Bay Area roots, like Gunderson Dettmer, Cooley, Wilson Sonsini, and Fenwick, have continued to do well.
Freshfields put together a team that included several well-known locals: Sarah Solum, a top capital-markets partner from Davis Polk; Boris Feldman and Doru Gavril, two securities litigators from Wilson Sonsini who have represented dozens of tech companies in shareholder disputes; John Fisher, a mergers and acquisitions partner from Sidley; and Maj Vaseghi, a Latham & Watkins alum who advises dealmakers on executive compensation and benefits.
And the team’s deals have been making headlines. Solum was recently listed as counsel to Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky in connection with the firm’s blockbuster initial public offering, and Feldman has appeared on behalf of Pinterest in recent investor lawsuits. More recently, Fisher shared top billing on the firm’s representation of AstraZeneca on its $39 billion acquisition of Alexion.
Jane Byrne, Quinn Emanuel to McDermott Will & Emery
McDermott Will & Emery’s hiring of the insurance litigators Jane Byrne and Guyon Knight were two standout hires in a busy year for the billion-dollar law firm’s lateral growth. Byrne had cochaired Quinn Emanuel’s insurance group, and her and Knight’s addition to McDermott came less than a year after McDermott hired an eight-partner group focused on insurance transactions from Drinker Biddle.
“They’ve made some high-profile hires,” Gabriella Cleveland, the founder and principal of Haven Recruiting Group in Texas, said. “McDermott, I’d say, is a firm to watch.”
Frederic Ragucci and other finance partners, Schulte Roth & Zabal to Proskauer Rose
Frederic Ragucci, who led Schulte Roth & Zabal’s finance practice, moved in August with three other lawyers who have represented direct lenders and other nonbank sources of capital to Proskauer Rose’s private-credit group.
They have represented clients including MGG Investment Partners, Sixth Street Partners, and Cerberus Business Finance. Business Insider reported in July that the move was in part due to a dispute over firm leadership, but Ji Hye You, one of the partners who moved, denied this in a phone call on Monday, saying “that wasn’t the case at all.”
The other partners include Michael Mezzacappa and Marc Friess, and sources told Insider in July their book of business was $15 million to $30 million. Since the move, Ragucci has been listed as Sixth Street’s lawyer in a regulatory document.
Nicholas Gravante and others, Boies Schiller to Cadwalader
The departure of Nicholas Gravante, one of Boies Schiller’s managing partners, came as a surprise to many observers. His move, along with partners Philip Iovieno, Karen Dyer, and Lawrence Brandman, will bulk up Cadwalader’s litigation practice with partners who have worked on high-stakes commercial disputes and antitrust cases. Boies Schiller, which once considered merging with Cadwalader, has since named three new managing partners and elevated Natasha Harrison to the position of deputy chair.
Gravante and others in the group have worked with clients including The Related Cos., the real-estate developer behind Manhattan’s Hudson Yards, and the insurance companies Starr Cos. Iovieno and others in the group have worked on several antitrust cases, including price-fixing cases related to LCD screens and broiler chickens and a case brought by the medical-device maker AngioDynamics, which also works with Cadwalader, in a dispute with competitor C.R. Bard.
They are set to move to Cadwalader in early 2021.
Rick Kline and Sarah Axtell, Goodwin Procter to Latham & Watkins
Rick Kline and Sarah Axtell brought deep tech expertise to Latham’s capital-markets practice: The pair represented Slack in its direct listing to the New York Stock Exchange, with Kline also representing the business-communication platform’s $27.7 billion sale to Salesforce, and the identity-management company Okta in its $200 million IPO.
Before joining Latham in November, Kline and Axtell had been at Goodwin Procter for nearly a decade. McMorrow said she was surprised to see Kline’s and Axtell’s departures, saying Goodwin’s partners get along well with one another. She said Latham was known to set a high bar for its lateral hires, adding that they “turn down a lot of people that other firms would jump at.”
Joel Rubinstein and others, Winston & Strawn to White & Case
Rubinstein, a member of Winston & Strawn’s executive committee, and two other capital-markets partners who joined White & Case earlier this year are specialists in special-purpose acquisition companies, with one SPAC sponsor calling him “the most sought-after man in the SPAC business.” The so-called blank-check companies have raised tens of billions of dollars in offerings this year. They generate legal work when they go public and again when they acquire an operating company.
The group has represented a number of underwriters, including in offerings for the Churchill Capital SPACs backed by the industry veteran Michael Klein, and SPACs themselves, including entities run by the entertainment-industry executives Harry Sloan and Jeff Sagansky. Securities filings and press releases showed they worked on numerous matters related to Diamond Eagle Acquisition Corp., which eventually became DraftKings.
Lee Richards and others, Richards Kibbe & Orbe to Perkins Coie
In one of the biggest group moves of the year, Lee Richards, a cofounder and named partner of Richards Kibbe & Orbe (RKO), and 16 other white-collar and financial-services litigators will be joining Perkins Coie’s New York and Washington, DC, offices. Richards Kibbe & Orbe will be renamed Kibbe & Orbe to account for the loss of Richards.
RKO is a prominent New York boutique, with approximately 50 lawyers on its website. The departures, which also include David Massey, the cochair of its litigation department, are a “very significant” blow to the firm, Ross Weil of Walker Associates said. In June, RKO also lost five corporate attorneys to Barnes & Thornburg.
Some recruiters saw the additions’ white-collar expertise as complementing Perkins Coie’s political-law prowess. White-collar prosecutions have fallen during the Trump administration, and more aggressive moves by business regulators and prosecutors in the Biden administration could mean more work for defense lawyers like Richards and Massey. Perkins Coie has a busy political-law practice that has done work for several top Democrats.
Roger Singer, Clifford Chance to Gibson Dunn
Roger Singer, who rose from being an associate at the elite UK firm Clifford Chance to leading the firm’s US private-funds group, moved to Gibson Dunn in September. He’s known for his work on real-estate funds, and said at the time of his move that the strength of Gibson Dunn’s real-estate and real-assets transactional group set it apart.
Singer’s clients have included Berkshire Residential Investments, AIG Global Real Estate, Oak Street, Exeter Property Group, Madison International Realty, and Fairfield Residential in the formation and management of real-estate and other investment funds, according to his profile on Gibson Dunn’s website.
Jena Valdetero, David Zetoony, and other data-privacy lawyers, Bryan Cave to Greenberg Traurig
David Zetoony’s and Jena Valdetero’s moves were big in a buzzy practice area where many firms have been trying to grow. Data privacy and cybersecurity have grown in importance for a wide variety of industries that collect, store, and distribute personal data and financial information in the US, Europe, and beyond.
In interviews earlier this year, Zetoony and others said the data-privacy legal landscape was evolving in California and Europe. Aberman, the Lucas Group recruiter, said Valdetero and Zetoony’s group was known for advising clients in several contexts, including counseling, data-breach response, and data-privacy litigation.
Billy Jacobson and Jonathan Lopez, Orrick to Allen & Overy
The move of two white-collar litigators from Orrick in Washington, DC, was a “pretty big win for Allen & Overy,” said Lauren Smith, senior director of Parker and Lynch’s national partner group. Jacobson and Lopez, who had been at Orrick together since 2014, both previously worked in the Department of Justice’s Fraud Section and focus on overseas corruption cases, anti-corruption, anti-money laundering, and other financial crimes and white-collar work.
With financial litigation expected to increase, white-collar lawyers — who are among the highest-billing partners at most law firms — can be good investments for firms looking to bulk up their federal enforcement expertise. Allen & Overy hired Julian Moore last year, and the firm recently represented BNP Paribas in criminal and regulatory investigations and the Deerfield Capital analyst Robert Olan in an insider-trading trial.
DON’T MISS: Greenberg Traurig just poached 5 more privacy and data-security lawyers, bulking up in a practice area that’s booming as clients rush to navigate new regulation and safeguard sensitive information