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Howrey Met Your Mother (Then Lost Her to Another Firm)

Yesterday we reported on talks last week between Jones Day and key partners in the construction group of Howrey. It appears that the talks have borne fruit.

As reported yesterday by the Daily Journal (subscription), a group of seven Howrey partners — led by prominent construction lawyer Steve O’Neal, former chairman of the now-defunct Thelen law firm — left Howrey this week for Jones Day. The move was confirmed yesterday by Robert Mittelstaedt, the partner in charge of Jones Day’s San Francisco office.

Who are the departing construction-law partners? And which other partners might be leaving Howrey’s California offices?

The construction group that’s moving to JD consists of Stephen O’Neal, Aaron Gruber, John Foust, Kent Lindsay, Daven Lowhurst, David Buoncristiani and Clark Thiel. More from the Daily Journal:

O’Neal and his group are no strangers to conspicuous departures. The former chairman of now-defunct Thelen LLP, O’Neal negotiated the move of 40 lawyers nationwide from Thelen’s construction practice to Howrey as his firm dissolved in the fall of 2008. At the time, O’Neal dismissed rumors he prematurely brokered a deal with Howrey before Thelen agreed to dissolve, insisting the move minimized and mitigated a difficult situation.

Many of the departing partners are on a team handling litigation involving the $8.5 billion CityCenter development in Las Vegas, a case one former Howrey attorney said was a major coup for O’Neal’s group.

We noted the CityCenter matter in yesterday’s post. One source estimated that it generates about $500K to $900K a month.

As of Tuesday, some of Howrey’s San Francisco construction partners appeared to still be at the firm, including Paul W. Berning and John R. Heisse II.

Howard W. Ashcraft Jr., a construction litigation partner with Hanson Bridgett in San Francisco, said the fracture of Howrey’s construction group would be a surprise. “Numbers aren’t everything,” Ashcraft said, “[But] there are things that critical mass helps with.”

Unlike the move from Thelen to Howrey, this time around, the group will join a firm with an existing construction group. In California, Jones Day’s construction team is rated by Chambers and Partners as among the top seven in the state, led by firmwide practice co-chair Daniel McMillan in Los Angeles.

That’s probably a good thing. Some observers have blamed the apparent failure of the Thelen refugees to flower at Howrey on the lack of a preexisting construction group at the firm.

The construction lawyers aren’t the only Howrey defectors to Jones Day. Am Law Daily reports:

Jones Day also announced on Tuesday that it had recruited Howrey IP litigators William Rooklidge and Frank Coté to join its office in Irvine, Calif. Rooklidge previously served as cochair of Howrey’s IP practice, while Coté handles patent, trademark, and trade secrets litigation.

The Recorder reports that another Howrey IP litigator, James Batchelder in Palo Alto, is headed for Ropes & Gray, according to two lawyers familiar with the move. Ropes declined to comment on any hire, as did Batchelder, a former name partner at IP boutique Day Casebeer Madrid & Batchelder, which was acquired by Howrey in June 2009.

If Howrey’s hemorrhaging can’t be halted, will Winston still want what’s left?

Jones Day Snags Nine More Howrey Partners; Ropes Eyeing IP Litigator [Am Law Daily]
More Leave Howrey [Daily Journal]

Earlier: Prior ATL coverage of Howrey

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