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Husch Blackwell has decided that it won’t play in Peoria, Ill., anymore.
Five partners from the Missouri-based Am Law 200 firm’s office in the central Illinois city are joining 28-lawyer local shop Quinn, Johnston, Henderson, Pretorius & Cerulo, according to a press release issued Monday.
Real estate and construction partners Stephen Buck and Kimberly Sarff, financial services partner Jeffrey Ryva, food and agribusiness partner Kenneth Eathington and technology, manufacturing and transportation partner Tyler Petersen are joining Quinn Johnston, which, in addition to the Peoria location, has an office in Illinois’ capital city of Springfield.
None of the lawyers leaving for Quinn Johnston immediately responded to requests for comment about their move. Husch Blackwell, meanwhile, noted in its press release that the departures come in conjunction with the firm’s plan to cease operations in Peoria. A source familiar with the matter says the firm delayed announcing that it was closing the office until most of the lawyers based there had found new professional homes.
“We share in our Peoria partners’ excitement for this new opportunity,” said a statement by Husch Blackwell chairman Maurice Watson, who was elected to the role in April 2012. “We have enjoyed working with our talented Peoria lawyers and staff, and we wish them all well in their new endeavors. Although our Peoria location no longer served our firm’s strategic objectives, Husch Blackwell continues to pursue growth by adding new talent with industry-specific expertise in other markets.”
The closing of the Peoria office comes a little more than eight months after Husch Blackwell’s merger with 65-lawyer Texas shop Brown McCarroll on July 1, 2013. The combination created a roughly 600-lawyer firm with 17 offices spread across the country, according to a report at the time by sibling publication Texas Lawyer.
In integrating its latest merger partner, Husch Blackwell has streamlined some of its operations. The move toward greater efficiency prompted the firm to lay off 3.5 percent of its staffers—or roughly 25 employees—in January.
“Our firm, like many of our clients, is being challenged to do more with less,” the firm said in a statement issued at the time of the layoffs. “We continuously assess our costs with a focus on improving efficiency and quality.”
Even before its merger with Brown McCarroll, Husch Blackwell has seen its head count rise nearly 5 percent, to 539 lawyers last year. The firm’s equity partnership ranks also grew 9 percent in 2013, from 140 to 153, according to The American Lawyer’s reporting. And while the firm’s gross revenue rose 7.1 percent in 2013, to $302 million, its profits per partner declined 9.5 percent, to $570,000, as it absorbed costs related to the Brown McCarroll merger, a year after partner profits soared 19 percent.
Tie-ups are nothing new to Husch Blackwell. The firm was formed via a late 2007 merger between St. Louis–based Husch & Eppenberger and Kansas City, Mo.–based Blackwell Sanders. After absorbing Chicago IP boutique Welsh & Katz the following year, Husch Blackwell took its current name in 2010—just a few months before adding 24 lawyers from Denver’s Jacobs Chase.
Husch Blackwell maintains a referral relationship with London-based Pinsent Masons, which acquired Husch Blackwell’s Scottish referral partner McGrigors in 2012. In February, Husch Blackwell opened a second office in St. Louis, where it already had a robust presence.
Husch Blackwell has also been active in the lateral market, hiring Catherine Hanaway—a former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri who announced last month that she plans to run for governor in 2016—as a partner in St. Louis and former federal prosecutor Cynthia Cordes as a partner in Kansas City.
The firm’s other prominent lateral hires last year included Patton Boggs white-collar defense and compliance partner Kevin McCart in Washington, D.C., and energy and environmental litigation partner Eric Drummond in Denver. Lise Spacapan, a former product liability cochair at Jenner & Block, joined Husch Blackwell’s Chicago office. And McGuireWoods energy partner Kyle Barry came aboard in Springfield, where he serves as Illinois counsel for the FutureGen 2.0 clean coal project.
Husch Blackwell also saw some notable lawyers depart within the past year. Jerold Schnayer, an IP litigation partner in Chicago and founding partner of Welsh & Katz, joined Locke Lord in October. Polsinelli raided Husch Blackwell for a 10-lawyer litigation team in Chattanooga, St. Louis and Washington, D.C., last summer, and Dentons added six white-collar litigation partners from the firm’s Kansas City office. Regional rivals Stinson Leonard Street and Kutak Rock took turns poaching partners from Husch Blackwell in Omaha, according to the Kansas City Business Journal.
Husch Blackwell also mourned the death last year of partner Isaac “Ike” Skelton IV, a former congressman and chair of the House Armed Service Committee, who died at 81 on Oct. 28. Skelton spent 34 years representing Missouri in Congress before being ousted in November 2010—he joined Husch Blackwell the following March—by Tea Party favorite Vicky Hartzler. (The Obama administration nominated Skelton to serve on a World War I centennial commission last year.)
As of Monday, Husch Blackwell’s website listed six partners based out Peoria: the five joining Quinn Johnston and real estate and construction partner Andrew Honegger, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment about his plans.
Brian Ruddell, the former managing partner of Husch Blackwell’s Peoria office, is no longer listed on the firm’s website. Records on file with the Illinois State Bar Association indicate Ruddell as still being with the firm, although an email sent to him at Husch Blackwell went unreturned.