Bankruptcy, Biglaw, Dissolution, Howrey LLP, Musical Chairs, Partner Issues

Musical Chairs: Robert Ruyak, Ex-Chairman of Howrey, Finds a New Home

Robert Ruyak

One of the most colorful characters in the saga of Howrey LLP, the once-thriving law firm that dissolved this past March, was Robert Ruyak, former chairman of the firm. How many law firm leaders write inspirational poetry for their summer associates?

Alas, many at Howrey found Ruyak’s leadership to be less than inspiring. He was frequently cast as the villain in the demise of the firm, which he led for over a decade before its dissolution. As noted by the WSJ Law Blog, Ruyak was criticized “[i]n some corners of the blogosphere” for “not respond[ing] swiftly enough to declines in the firm’s productivity” and “not sufficiently shar[ing] management responsibilities with his fellow partners.” According to the American Lawyer, he caused the firm to overexpand, taking on too much risk — in the form of lateral partners and contingency cases, among other things — when it should have been buckling down for tough times ahead.

Today brings news that Robert Ruyak has found a new professional home. Where’s he going?

Robert Ruyak has joined the D.C. office of Winston & Strawn — the same firm that courted Howrey before its fall. When reached for comment, Ruyak was overheard saying, “Howrey going to suck it, blog commenters and WARN plaintiffs.”

Here’s a report on the Ruyak hire, by Sara Randazzo of Am Law Daily:

Six months after presiding over the dissolution of the firm he led for 11 years, Robert Ruyak is returning to his trial lawyer roots by joining Winston & Strawn’s Washington, D.C., office as an equity partner in the firm’s global litigation practice.

Ruyak, an antitrust and intellectual property specialist, officially joined Winston on September 5. In his new position, he will forego any management role in favor of doing what he says he does best—trying cases. His move to the firm that he and others within Howrey once hoped would rescue them from insolvency comes as the Howrey estate continues to wind down its affairs in federal bankruptcy court.

Considering his controversial tenure at Howrey’s helm, it’s not surprising that Winston is keeping him away from the levers of management power. The firm does sound happy to have him as a litigator:

Winston chairman Dan Webb says that adding the former Howrey chairman to the firm’s litigation group represents a “major coup” and that Ruyak’s stewardship of a firm now mired in bankruptcy presented “literally no risk whatsoever” to Winston. Ruyak’s hiring—which, according to Webb, is not subject to a contract—was approved by a vote of Winston’s partnership.

“Bob is truly an outstanding first-chair trial lawyer,” said Webb, adding that Ruyak’s “contacts with general counsels and major decision makers in corporate America are really second to none.”

It should be a good deal for Ruyak, too. Winston must be paying him well, because he wasn’t doing badly while working on the Howrey bankruptcy. In July 2011, Ruyak received $113,000 from the firm’s estate for his dissolution-related work. Career alternative for attorneys: mortician?

Ruyak isn’t the first leader of a failed firm to land on his feet. Other examples include Stephen O’Neal (from Thelen to Howrey, and then to Jones Day); Matthew Larrabee (from Heller Ehrman to Dechert); and Tower Snow (from Brobeck to Clifford Chance to Howard Rice to Cooley).

Congratulations to Winston on its new hire — according to firm chairman Dan Webb, Winston made “a concerted effort to woo” Ruyak — and good luck to Robert Ruyak in his new post.

Winston & Strawn Hires Ex-Howrey Chairman Ruyak [Am Law Daily]
Ex-Howrey Chair’s Salary For July: $113,000 [Am Law Daily]
Robert Ruyak’s Second Act [WSJ Law Blog]
Former CEO of Howrey law firm joins Winston & Strawn [Chicago Tribune]
Former Howrey Chairman Will Join Winston’s DC Office [ABA Journal]
Winston & Strawn Welcomes Prominent Trial Attorney Robert Ruyak to its Global Litigation Team [Winston & Strawn (press release)]

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