Biglaw, Musical Chairs, White & Case

A Partner Exodus from White & Case?

As we’ve covered in these pages, a fair amount of talent has departed from White & Case in the past few months. The latest to leave: Kathleen Pakenham, a leading litigatrix in tax, who has moved over to Cooley as a partner.

Is this part of a larger trend? And will it continue?

“In under a year, White & Case has lost nearly 40 partners, most of whom have the largest books of business in the firm,” according to one source. “Many of the partner departures have been widely covered by the media — e.g., the 13 departures to Latham in London — but many more have been under the radar screen.”

We’ve received divergent opinions, however, on the extent and significance of the partner losses. Some say that many of the partners who left are not major names and have limited books of business, and that 40 is far too high for the number of departures in the past year. According to the Lawshucks Lateral Tracker, at least 28 attorneys have left W&C since October 2009, but we don’t know the number for the trailing 12 months.

Who are some of the other White & Case lawyers that have left for other firms? What are the broader implications of these departures? And what does the firm have to say about all of this?

Let’s start with the firm’s take. A spokesperson for White & Case responded to our inquiry as follows:

As we have indicated previously, in order to maintain the confidentiality of our partners, White & Case has not and will not provide details around any partner departures or related actions, nor distribute any list of names, numbers or percentages of those impacted, either internally or externally. We stand by our partners and their right to privacy in such matters.

Also, as you may know — and to lend some balance to your story — White & Case has promoted and hired laterally a total of 47 new partners around the world since 1 January 2010. We will also be announcing several more new partner additions in the next couple of weeks.

This is true; there have been a number of arrivals at White & Case in the past year. The Lawshucks Lateral Tracker shows seven just since December 2009. (It’s worth noting, however, that some of the new lawyers were not partners at their prior firms — such as Brenda Dieck, former counsel at O’Melveny, and Christian Pilkington, former counsel at Skadden.)

As for departures, although White & Case was unwilling to name names, a tipster provides a partial listing of lawyers who have left the firm (but note that this list includes departures over the past few years, not just the recent past; also, let us know if you see any errors or omissions):

N. Adele Hogan leaving for Cadwalader; Mats Sacklen in London to head McDermott M&A; Walter Daniel to join PriceWaterhouse; Kenneth Raskin to join King & Spalding; Steve Betensky to Latham; Elaine Johnston to A&O; Tim Jeveons, Andrew Croxford and Andrew Caunt for Greenberg Traurig Maher; Dan Hamilton for Ashurst; high yield specialist Jonathan Bloom for Ropes & Gray; Maurice Allen and Mike Goetz for Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, then for Ropes & Gray; Rachel Hatfield, Jonathan Moskin to Foley & Lardner; Heidi Keefe, Mark Weinstein and Mark Lambert to Cooley; Bill Coats to head Kaye Scholer in Palo Alto.

These partner losses aren’t good news for White & Case, which turned in a less-than-fabulous performance last year. In 2009, profit per partner at White & Case was flat, and revenue per lawyer declined, to $690,000. A tipster parses these numbers:

If you look at the revenue per lawyer at White & Case last year, it was reported to be in the $650,000 range — far far lower than firms with significantly lower reported PPP (White & Case calculated its PPP to exclude the vast majority of partners). And the RPL figure was AFTER massive amounts of layoffs — add the laid-off attorneys, and you’re looking at a RPL that wouldn’t be in the top 100 of international firms.

I’m not sure if this is a bank run, but the firm is certainly doing everything it can to keep the partner departures quiet and out of the media. The firm communicated to everyone that gardening leave will be strictly enforced and partners would lose significant money for leaving.

Holding White & Case together is made more difficult by traits that historically have been strengths: the firm’s global reach and the autonomy of different offices. This means that the offices can react rapidly and in flexible fashion to local developments, but it also means that they aren’t very integrated into W&C as a whole.

“All it would take would be for one or two offices to get so fed up with New York and its attitude that they left White & Case,” speculated a source. “Why merge with a U.K. firm when you can have White & Case’s London office? Same for South America… Asia… Germany…”

Word on the street is that not everyone is a fan of chairman Hugh Verrier and his leadership of the firm — and some lawyers are voting with their feet. As a tipster told us: “Rather than stay and fight to save W&C, the partners who can leave are leaving.”

In fairness to the firm, White & Case isn’t alone in experiencing such issues. If you’re aware of a similarly situated firm, please drop us a line. Thanks.

Cooley Adds Tax Litigation Partner in New York [Cooley LLP (press release)]
The Churn: Lateral Moves and Promotions in The Am Law 200 [Am Law Daily]

Earlier: Prior ATL coverage of White & Case

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