Antitrust, Biglaw, Dewey & LeBoeuf, Howrey LLP, Intellectual Property, john quinn, Musical Chairs, Partner Issues, United Kingdom / Great Britain

Howrey Going To Fix This? (Partner Defections, Office Closings — Not Good.)

When asked for some 2011 predictions by the folks over at Hellerman Baretz, I had this to say (among other commentary): “Although business is generally picking up, some firms still haven’t managed to shake off the effects of the recession — and they are now seeing significant defections, as their partners leave for firms that have weathered the storm better. So, in the next year, look for at least one large — i.e., Am Law 200 — law firm to either dissolve or be swallowed up by another firm as an alternative to dissolution.”

One firm that has been experiencing some major partner departures and general upheaval is Howrey. This post is the first of what we expect to be a series of stories about the firm. If you have information about Howrey that you can share, please email us or text us.

It’s getting hard to keep track of all the partner defections at Howrey. But let’s give it a shot, as well as talk about various Howrey offices that might not be long for this world….

We’ll start with the office closings, since one of them appears to be previously unreported. Here they are (two confirmed and one merely rumored):

1. Taipei. Howrey’s Taipei office has been acquired by Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, as reported by The Lawyer.

2. Salt Lake City. The office is closing as of February 15. Employees received one month’s severance. Said a tipster:

This comes after managing partner Richard Casey and partner Wes Felix announced that they will be following Gary Bendinger to Sidley Austin. They will be in the LA office. This move left the Howrey SLC office with one partner and five associates. The remaining partner, Chris Sullivan, will remain with Howrey (for now).

3. Chicago. Reported a source:

Howrey Chicago is in big trouble. Several litigation partners are leaving the office headed for other firms and bringing associates with them. Looks like the firm as a whole could be in for a major hit.

A Howrey spokesperson confirmed the closing of the Salt Lake City office but stated that the firm is not aware of any upcoming defections in Chicago.

Now, on to the partner departures. The past year has seen over 60 partners leaving Howrey, but the latest wave seemed to start last month.

As we previously mentioned, in December Howrey’s litigation co-chair, Gary Bendinger, left for Sidley Austin. Two other litigation partners, Gregory Ballard and Kevin Burke, made the move with Bendinger. (Read Brian Baxter’s detailed report over at Am Law Daily.)

More recent partner defections have also involved Howrey higher-ups. In early January, IP lawyer Mark Hodgson, former head of Howrey’s London office, left the firm to join Field Fisher Waterhouse. Hodgson’s departure marked the end of Howrey’s London IP practice.

Earlier this week, Henry Bunsow, former vice chairman of the firm and managing partner of Howrey’s Northern California offices, defected for Dewey & LeBoeuf. Making the move with Bunsow are Denise De Mory and Brian Smith, partners at Howrey who will join Dewey as partners. Like Hodgson, all three are IP lawyers.

The latest bad news, reported this morning by The Lawyer: Trevor Soames, Brussels head and global antitrust co-chair, has resigned from the firm. Unlike the other defectors, Soames left without having found a new perch first — he just up and quit.

“This is just the latest in the hemorrhaging, as you know,” one veteran legal industry observer told Above the Law, summarzing the past few months of partner defections. “Significant because Howrey’s two main calling cards have been antitrust and IP litigation. These are hits to two-star generals, not infantry.”

What does the firm have to say about all of these departures, totaling more than 60 partners in the past year? Managing partner Robert Ruyak told The Lawyer, the British legal publication, that some of the shrinkage is intentional:

We had to make the ­decision to focus even more than in the past and it was clear we needed to downsize the firm. You also need to remember there have been some dramatic shifts in ­litigation in the US. The use of electronic discovery and outsourcing has meant less need for manpower. That’s been a dramatic shift in the past few years.

John Quinn, the extremely candid founding partner of Quinn Emanuel, expressed skepticism (via his Twitter feed): “I really doubt this explanation.” Quinn, it should be noted, hired away two Howrey partners last year: biotech lawyer David Bilsker, and veteran IP litigatrix Karin Kramer.

In the same interview with The Lawyer, Ruyak added that Howrey’s banks are supportive of the firm, which recently put in place a new one-year covenant with its lenders. But it’s not a good sign when lawyers have to talk about bankers (unless Rodge Cohen or Marty Lipton are speaking about their clients). As you may recall, banks played a role in the collapse of Heller Ehrman.

Hopefully Howrey will right its ship and emerge from this difficult period stronger than ever. But if you’re at Howrey, it surely can’t hurt to update your résumé and keep an eye out for opportunities.

Trevor Soames latest partner to quit Howrey [The Lawyer]
Howrey Vice Chairman Leaves for Dewey & LeBoeuf [The Blog of Legal Times]
Another Howrey Departure: Henry Bunsow Joins Dewey & LeBoeuf [WSJ Law Blog]
John Quinn Isn’t Buying Howrey’s Explanation for Its Partner Losses [Am Law Daily]
Howrey boss: shedding 60 partners is all part of a cunning plan [The Lawyer]
Howrey MP Says Outsourcing, Electronic Discovery Spurred Partnership Downsizing [ABA Journal]
Howrey’s Losses Continue as London Managing Partner Joins U.K. Firm [Am Law Daily]
Howrey closes London IP practice as City office head joins Field Fisher [Legal Week]
Howrey Litigation Cochair Heading to Sidley Austin [Am Law Daily]
2011 Predictions from Legal Media Stars [Hellerman Baretz]

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