As lateral activity continues to ramp up, global legal recruiter Nancy Grimes has noticed an increasing trend – many Am Law 100 attorneys are finding their own personal slice of “heaven” at mid-sized firms. Grimes observed, “A large number of these attorneys arrived at big firms through mergers during the 90s economic boom. Feeling like a square peg in a round hole, these partners’ regional clients really didn’t fit the big-firm model” because their clients were not willing to pay big firm fees. So, many of them left the ‘platform prestige’ behind for the more comfortable fit of midsized firms.”
According to Grimes, the shift is good news for mid-sized shops, which usually have lower overhead costs and are a better match for regional clients. According to Peer Monitor, Hildebrandt Institute’s legal market tracker, mid-sized firms experienced the greatest growth in the 2nd quarter of 2012. Grimes predicts this trend will continue. “As the country continues to discuss future financial issues, companies will continue to find ways to “tighten their belts” and maintain or raise current profit margins. One way I feel will become increasingly popular with companies big and small is to ‘unbundle’ work currently distributed to mega-firms and send parcels of it to mid-sized or small firms with lower rates. This type of shift will force big law attorneys to look for the more amiable rate structures which can be found in smaller firms.”
Cases in Point
Partners Lindsey D. G. Dates and Daniel J. Lawler joined Barnes & Thornburg’s Chicago office as partners in the Litigation and Healthcare Departments, respectively. Previously, Dates worked in the Chicago office of Jones Day and Lawler worked in the Chicago office of K&L Gates LLP. According to the firm’s press release, Dates is a trial lawyer who represents global clients in high-stakes litigation matters and focuses on commercial contract and business tort litigation. His broad array of complex litigation experience includes antitrust, intellectual property, product liability, white collar criminal, commercial real estate, labor, bankruptcy, and health care litigation matters.
Lawler has extensive experience representing healthcare providers in regulatory proceedings before the Illinois Department of Public Health, the Department of Healthcare and Family Services (f/k/a Department of Public Aid), and the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board (IHFSRB). Most notably, Lawler represented Centegra Health System in front of the IHFSRB on its Certificate of Need (CON) application. The new Centegra Hospital-Huntley will be one of only two new, non-replacement acute care hospitals in the Chicago area in the last 30 years.
Perkins Coie lost one of its attorneys, Steven Gonzales, who left to head Lee Tran & Liang’s employment litigation practice in Los Angeles. Joining as a partner, Gonzales will focus on defending cases involving claims of wrongful termination, discrimination, defamation, breach of contract, and other employment matters.
Carlton Fields recently brought on board Charles Sharbaugh and associate Jason W. Howard. Sharbaugh, previously with Paul Hastings, has practiced real estate law for nearly 40 years. According to the firm’s press release, Sharbaugh said, “Jason and I are delighted to join Carlton Fields. The firm offers its clients a unique value proposition. Its business model is practical and conservative, yet progressive. As the real estate and legal industries transform, successful client partnering depends on offering clients creative solutions, which is exactly what Carlton Fields does. In this next generation of my practice, I’m thrilled to be working with highly experienced attorneys at Carlton Fields who employ pragmatic solutions that accomplish clients’ objectives efficiently and responsively.”
Of course, there are those instances where even mid-sized is too large. For example, Ninety-attorney Morrison Cohen acquired Willkie Farr litigation partner Terence McLaughlin, 42, in November. McLaughlin had worked at Willkie Farr for 17 years, first as a summer associate and, starting in 2005, as a partner. McLaughlin represents financial institutions, hedge funds, corporations and business executives in litigation. According to The National Law Journal, McLaughlin said he liked that Morrison Cohen focuses on middle-market clients, a concentration better aligned with his practice. “As a relatively young person, I was looking at how to go about building a business at a $900-plus billable rate,” he said. “I felt that [Morrison Cohen] was a more interesting platform.”
Grimes noted, “Although sometimes partners may miss the trimmings that come with big-law practice, the ability to charge lower rates and roundtable interaction with fellow partners make up for any possible shortcomings”.