Biglaw, Lateral Moves, Litigators, Musical Chairs, Partner Issues, Vicious Infighting

Musical Chairs: Quinn Emanuel Snags Two Weil Gotshal Partners — and Weil Is Not Happy About It

Two litigation partners in the Washington office of Weil Gotshal, Michael Lyle and Eric Lyttle, have left Weil to join the D.C. office of Quinn Emanuel. Lyle, a successful trial lawyer who also worked in the White House during the Clinton Administration, was particularly prominent at Weil Gotshal: he served as managing partner of the D.C. office and was a member of the firm’s management committee.

Quinn Emanuel has been on a lateral hiring tear, so it’s not exactly shocking when they lure stars away from other firms. And QE’s Washington office has been particularly active on the hiring front. Just last month, for example, they hired a longtime federal prosecutor, Sam Sheldon, deputy chief of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section, out of the Justice Department.

So here’s what is especially interesting about the Lyle and Lyttle departures: how Weil reacted to the news. Let’s just say Weil didn’t take it sitting down….

Apparently Weil was not pleased. That’s understandable; we hear that Mike Lyle and Eric Lyttle were two of the most popular partners in the office, and Lyle was the managing partner in D.C. (He will be replaced in that role by Steven Tyrrell.) And we also hear that Weil made a strong but unsuccessful effort to keep Lyle and Lyttle at the firm, making their decision to defect to Quinn sting that much more.

So here’s what’s unusual. The executive partner of Weil, Barry Wolf, came down from New York to D.C. on Monday. He convened a town hall meeting where he announced that Lyle and Lyttle would be leaving and that Lyle would be replaced by Tyrrell as managing partner.

Wolf then “trashed Mike and Eric as disloyal, to the entire office,” a tipster told us. It was an ugly and awkward scene, according to this source, and the office has been shaken by the whole situation.

“Morale is very low — this was a big blow,” our tipster told us. “It’s a real mess.”

We understand that Lyle and Lyttle were removed from the Weil offices earlier this week. But apparently they’re not out of the Weil partnership yet (and their bios are still on the Weil website). Continuing to play hardball, Weil is not releasing them from the partnership, instead holding them to the (seldom enforced) notice requirements of the partnership agreement. As a result, it’s not clear when Mike Lyle and Eric Lyttle will join Quinn Emanuel.

This doesn’t sound like terribly classy behavior from Weil. In fact, it seems downright vindictive for the managing partner of the entire firm to travel down to D.C. and make a special guest appearance to attack two departing partners.

It’s unusual, yet one can’t help wondering: Could Weil’s reaction become the new model for handling partner defections? Generally firms are genteel when it comes to partners leaving. But as lateral partner movement increases, could firms start getting tough on defectors, as a way of discouraging partner departures and the attendant loss of clients?

We reached out to both Quinn Emanuel and Weil Gotshal. Quinn merely confirmed that Lyle and Lyttle plan to join the firm. Weil did not get back to us; if and when they do, we will update this post.

We might write more about this story if additional interesting information comes our way. Feel free to email us or to text us (646-820-8477) if you have info or opinions you might be willing to share.

UPDATE (4/18/2013, 1:05 p.m.): We did receive additional interesting information. There is another side to this story, which you should definitely read.

(Flip to the next page to see Mike Lyle and Eric Lyttle’s impressive bios, before they get pulled from the Weil website. Lyttle is pretty cute, too….)

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