Thelen Reid & Priest

Isn’t Jewel v. Boxer a great case name? Doesn’t it sound like one of the classics of the 1L curriculum, right up there with Pierson v. Post, Hawkins v. McGee, and International Shoe?

It is definitely a case that lawyers ought to know. This appellate decision, handed down by a California court in 1984, remains the leading case on how to divvy up attorneys’ fees generated by cases that were still in progress at the time of a law firm’s dissolution. Dewey care about this case? Absolutely.

But Jewel might not maintain its status as the key precedent on so-called “unfinished business,” at least if one judge has anything to say about it. Check out an interesting ruling that just came down from the Southern District of New York, arising out of one of the biggest Biglaw bankruptcies of recent years….

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I’ve watched Dewey’s collapse only from a distance, as have most lawyers. And I’m no student of law firm finances or management. But this struck me as I read the news:

Dewey: 2012.
Howrey: 2011.
Thelen: 2009.
Heller: 2008.
Coudert: 2006.
Brobeck: 2003.

And I’m probably overlooking other recent collapses of prominent firms, since I cobbled together that list from the names that came to mind unprompted.

This history suggests that another large, well-respected firm will collapse next year, and it’s a near certainty that a firm will collapse within the next two years. Who will it be?

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He was clearly the salesman-in-chief, and he did a darn good job at it. I remember being told that despite the fact that the economy was essentially collapsing around everyone’s heads, 2008 was going to come in well over budget with record revenues and profits.

Andrew Ness, former managing partner of the D.C. office of Thelen LLP, commenting to Washingtonian magazine about former Howrey chairman Robert Ruyak, the poetry-writing power lawyer who lured Ness and his Thelen colleagues over to Howrey.
(Ness is now a Jones Day partner.)

(Additional excerpts from and discussion of Marisa Kashino’s interesting article, A Tale of Two Law Firms: Hogan & Hartson and Howrey, after the jump.)

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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?

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After all, there are fewer partners for Howrey to lose with each passing day, as the Howrey lawyer diaspora continues to grow. Let’s review the recent activity — and discuss some possible future defections.

On Friday we reported that IP litigator Mark Whitaker would be joining Baker Botts. That news has now been publicly announced.

Back on February 4, we mentioned that government contracts lawyer Barbara Werther was leaving Howrey, most likely for Ober|Kaler. She’s now on the Ober|Kaler website (although the firm apparently didn’t issue a press release touting her arrival, as it did for two first-year associates).

UPDATE: Just this morning, Ober|Kaler issued a press release on Werther and insurance coverage litigator Stephen Palley (who also joined from Howrey).

UPDATE (4/5/11): All in all, five Howrey construction lawyers joined Ober|Kaler.

Other outlets have noted additional partner departures. K.T. “Sunny” Cherian, described by The Recorder as a “top IP litigation rainmaker” with a book of business worth more than $10 million, joined the San Francisco office of Hogan Lovells this past weekend. Four other partners will join him in soaking up the Ho-Love: John Hamann, Sarah Jalali, Constance Ramos, and Scott Wales (who had been the hiring partner for Howrey’s S.F. office).

Also in S.F., Pillsbury Winthrop picked up IP partner Duane Mathiowetz. The news was reported by the Daily Journal (subscription), which noted that Mathiowetz, who worked as a mechanical engineer for a decade before going into law, has taken five patent cases to trial in the past five years (winning four).

Who might be the next to leave Howrey? Here’s some speculation….

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It’s clear that Winston & Strawn isn’t happy about all the publicity it’s getting over Jonathan Bristol, the Winston partner — or former partner? — who has gotten entangled with Kenneth Starr

In case you haven’t been following the case of Kenneth Starr — not the one who brought us the delectable Starr Report, but the one who managed money for celebrity clients and now stands accused of a $30 million investment fraud — Jonathan Bristol did legal work for Starr. Bristol is referred to in the criminal complaint as “Associate-4″ — not as catchy as “Client No. 9,” but it’ll do.

Since the Starr story broke, Winston has refused to comment on the case or to clarify Bristol’s current status at the firm. On the latter subject, there are conflicting reports:

Bristol is a Winston & Strawn partner who arrived at the firm from the now-defunct Thelen. Bristol is not charged with any crime and faces no civil charges. But he appears to be gone from Winston, though firm higher-ups and a spokesman will not comment publicly on Bristol’s status. Two sources familiar with the matter say Bristol is indeed gone from Winston, though one source close to the case insists that Winston did not terminate Bristol.

Regardless of whether he’s still connected to the firm, Jonathan Bristol is definitely gone from the Winston website. As in really, truly gone.

Last week, Winston removed Bristol’s bio from the firm website. But that’s not all. Winston went to the trouble of taking the November 2008 press release touting Jonathan Bristol’s arrival at the firm (along with several other Thelen lawyers), revising it to omit any mention of Bristol, and then putting it back on the firm website….

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