The Churn
(Illustration by Paul Dilakian)

A day after Hogan Lovells and Squire Patton Boggs started the third quarter with mergers abroad, Venable has gotten into the tie-up game by picking up seven lawyers from Los Angeles litigation boutique Weingarten Brown.

Founding partner ALEX WEINGARTEN, a former Manatt, Phelps & Phillips associate who branched out on his own a decade ago, is joining Venable as a litigation partner in Los Angeles along with six associates from his former firm.

In a phone conversation Tuesday with The Am Law Daily, Weingarten said that while he wasn’t always “particularly enthusiastic” about returning to big firm life, for the past six months he had been entertaining just such a possibility. After speaking with about a dozen firms, Weingarten said it became clear that Venable was the right fit for his group.

“It was a difficult decision, as I’ve always considered myself a ‘free range lawyer,’” said Weingarten, who at 40 has already handled some high-profile entertainment industry cases, such as representing film financier David Bergstein in litigation against Stroock & Stroock & Lavan and several other lawyers. “But [Venable’s Los Angeles office] had that small firm, entrepreneurial feel, and it was just a tremendous opportunity.”

Venable opened in Los Angeles in July 2006 by acquiring local firms Gorry Meyer & Rudd and Whitwell Jacoby Emhoff. Douglas Emhoff, the partner-in-charge of Venable’s local base, was a name partner at the latter firm. He said that talks with Weingarten’s group “heated up earlier this year,” and by picking up the bulk of the firm Venable will now have 62 lawyers in the City of Angels.

“I’ve known Alex for over a decade and he’s first-rate lawyer who perfectly complements what we’ve built in L.A.,” said Emhoff, adding that Weingarten Brown has a “typical” litigation practice for the city, one that blends entertainment, media, IP and business disputes work. Venable, which last fall raided a Bay Area litigation boutique to open a San Francisco office that has now grown to 10 lawyers, is keen on expanding in the Golden State.

Emhoff, who earlier this year became engaged to California Attorney General Kamala Harris, said Venable has had success in wooing lawyers like Weingarten with their own shops back into the big firm fold. Before forging out on his own many years ago, Emhoff was an associate at a predecessor firm of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, so he knows the challenges faced by lawyers at firms both big and small. When asked about the series of small Los Angeles firms that have been absorbed over the past few years by larger national entities, Emhoff acknowledged that like many regions across the country, the market for legal services in Los Angeles has gone through some consolidation.

“It’s hard to scale a boutique,” said Emhoff, noting that many smaller shops, such as the one that used to have his name on its shingle, have an “arc of six-to-eight years” before they get folded into larger firms. “You don’t see many legacy boutiques, at least in Southern California, and it’s sometimes tough for GCs to hire those firms.”

Weingarten hopes that Venable’s platform—the 533-lawyer firm has nine U.S. offices—will help his team pick up assignments it might have missed out on as a smaller shop. He knows that will also mean forgoing some cases Weingarten Brown could have taken on in the past, but Weingarten said that in joining Venable, the “benefits far outweigh” any negatives.

Weingarten added that all his clients will come with him to Venable, including Bergstein, the Hollywood investor who remains embroiled in litigation with Stroock and several other former lawyers in a tangled court battle tied to a bankrupt film company. At the time of its absorption into Venable on June 30, Weingarten Brown had 11 lawyers with Weingarten as its sole equity partner.

Former name partner Ethan Brown, who now has his own solo practice in Santa Monica, left Weingarten Brown two years ago and the firm never rebranded. Others not joining Venable are Ronnie Roy, a partner and chair of Weingarten Brown’s transactional practice who joined the boutique last year from Irell & Manella, and of counsel Ruth Moore, who now has her own solo shop in suburban Denver, according to records on file with the State Bar of California.

Venable, which has kept up a steady stream of lateral hires in Los Angeles, suffered a slight setback in 2010 when Arent Fox raided the firm for a six-lawyer auto industry team, according to our previous reports.

In other Churn news …

Ballard Spahr has brought aboard real estate of counsel ANDREW WALSH in Bethesda, Md., from Hunton & Williams, where he was an associate in the capital finance and real estate practices.

Barnes & Thornburg, which expanded into Minneapolis via a merger in 2009, has hired municipal bond expert BENJAMIN JOHNSON in the Twin Cities from local firm Kennedy & Graven. Johnson will be a partner in Barnes & Thornburg’s government services and finance practice.

The U.S. Senate confirmed in a 93-0 vote this week Dechert partner CHERYL KRAUSE to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, according to affiliate publication The National Law Journal. Krause, who was nominated by the Obama administration earlier this year, joined Dechert’s appellate and white-collar litigation practice in 2006.

Dentons has hired veteran health-care fraud and abuse regulator ROBIN SCHNEIDER as senior counsel in Washington, D.C., from her role as senior attorney in the Department of Health and Human Services’ office of the inspector general. Schneider once spoke with the American Bar Association’s health law section about doing her job as she battled breast cancer.

The Music City saw a trio of notable musically inclined lawyers head to Dickinson Wright’s office in Nashville this week as the firm snagged DEREK CROWNOVER, founder of the Crownover Firm, to lead its entertainment practice. Also joining Dickinson Wright in Nashville are of counsel AUSTEN ADAMS and CAM CALDWELL, according to the Nashville Business Journal. In another hire in Columbus, Ohio, Dickinson Wright added corporate of counsel WILLIAM SHEARER from Gordon Bibart in Worthington, Ohio, where he was also of counsel.

DLA Piper has hired HERVE ISRAEL, a former head of tax at Hogan Lovells in Paris who went on to join British firm Holman Fenwick Willan’s office in the French capital, as a partner. Israel has more than a decade of experience handling corporate tax matters that crop up in financing large M&A transactions.

JAMILLIA FERRIS, a former chief-of-staff and counsel with the U.S. Justice Department’s antitrust division who joined Hunton & Williams as an antitrust partner last fall, has temporarily left the firm to lead the Federal Communications Commission’s review of AT&T’s proposed $48.5 billion acquisition of satellite television operator DirecTV, according to affiliate publication The Blog of Legal Times.

Gardere Wynne Sewell has grabbed oil and gas partner ALFREDO RAMOS in Houston from the San Antonio office of Chamberlain, Hrdlicka, White, Williams & Aughtry, where he was senior counsel and head of the Texas firm’s energy and commercial litigation areas.

Herrick, Feinstein has hired litigation partner VICTOR ROCCO to chair its white-collar defense and investigations practice in New York. Rocco joins the firm from Manhattan boutique Hafetz Necheles & Rocco, where he was a name partner.

As reported by The Am Law Daily earlier this week, Hogan Lovells has become the first Am Law 100 firm to merge with a leading firm in Mexico by bolting on 70-lawyer, 16-partner Barrera, Siqueiros y Torres Landa. The Daily Business Review, an affiliate publication, has more on why Hogan Lovells is heading to Mexico, where The American Lawyer recently reported many Am Law 100 firms are keen on establishing a base due to an improved business climate.

Manatt, Phelps & Phillips has hired litigation partner JOHN LEBLANC in Los Angeles from California’s Barger & Wolen. LeBlanc, who was a partner at his former firm, specializes in litigation and regulatory matters affecting the health insurance and managed care industries.

MARK BECK, a Los Angeles-based partner at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe and chair of its white-collar practice, has taken a temporary leave of absence from the firm. The Litigation Daily, an affiliate publication, reported on the development this week, noting that Beck’s departure comes after he became involved in a corporate espionage case with ties to China. Orrick filed a motion to withdraw from the litigation earlier this month, and Beck now has his own practice in Pasadena, according to California Bar records.

MICHAEL LENNON JR., a litigation and dispute resolution partner with Baker Botts in Houston since 1993, has left the firm for Mayer Brown, where he will be a partner in the latter’s international arbitration group. Lennon, whose practice focuses on the oil and gas and energy sectors, spent several years in the London office of Baker Botts before relocating back to Houston.

Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart has expanded in San Diego by hiring labor and employment partner CHRISTOPHER OLMSTED from local firm Barker Olmsted & Barnier, where he was a name partner. The Daily Transcript of San Diego reports that Olmsted is an active member of the city’s nonprofit community. Ogletree Deakins opened in San Diego last year, according to our previous reports.

Proskauer Rose has picked up labor and employment counsel NICOLAS LEGER in Paris from local shop LeXcom, where he was a partner. Leger has advised French and international companies in a range of industries, with a particular focus on the industrial and retail sectors.

Reed Smith has hired real estate finance partner MATTHEW HEATON in London from Pinsent Masons, where he made partner in 2007 after working at rival British firms Allen & Overy and Eversheds, according to U.K. publication The Lawyer. Heaton’s practice focuses primarily on structured real estate finance transactions and real estate loan portfolio acquisitions.

Squire Patton Boggs, whose June 1 creation is the subject of a feature story in The American Lawyer, took another step in its ongoing integration efforts this week by acquiring a five-lawyer corporate boutique in Tokyo led by founding M&A partner JUN MAMIYA. The Asian Lawyer, an affiliate publication, has more on union.

Vedder Price has bagged media and data privacy litigation partner BLAINE KIMREY in Chicago from Lathrop & Gage, where he chaired the digital privacy and data protection group after opening its Windy City base in 2009 by lateraling over from Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, according to a story at the time by The NLJ.

The Churn is compiled from law firm releases, announcements and reporting. Please send all announcements and news releases to thechurn@alm.com.