Hunton & Williams is opening a San Francisco office with a trio of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld labor attorneys -- part of an eight-lawyer group that's also expanding Hunton's offices in Los Angeles, Dallas and Houston.
Akin Gump is losing two of its five San Francisco partners -- Brett Burns and Fraser McAlpine -- and associate Anna Suh in the move. Akin partners Roland Juarez and Laura Franze, a co-chairwoman of the labor and employment group and a member of the firm's management committee, will both join Hunton in Los Angeles, with Franze spending part of her time in Houston, and Juarez commuting between L.A. and Dallas. Rounding out the group, three Akin associates are joining Hunton's Dallas office.
"I met with a lot of law firms," said Franze, who will become a co-chairwoman of Hunton's national labor and employment practice. "And this law firm has that sort of rare collegiality that I think a lot of law firms aspire to and don't achieve." Franze said she had been looking around for at least three months. "We looked at our options and together decided on Hunton," she said.
The group comprised nearly one-tenth of Akin Gump's 84-attorney labor and employment group, according to the firm's Web site. An Akin Gump spokesman said the firm wishes the departing four partners and four associates well.
In San Francisco, McAlpine said he could not comment because he has not yet left Akin. Most of the laterals start today, and Burns could not be reached on Monday.
In early June, the departure of a key Akin Gump rainmaker who split his time between Taiwan and Silicon Valley forced the firm -- and its Silicon Valley lawyers -- to reflect on the sudden loss of business.
For the time being, Hunton's San Francisco office will have no managing partner, a firm spokeswoman said. Hunton entered California in September 2006 when it opened its Los Angeles office, which currently has 14 attorneys.
"We made it pretty clear that we were then looking to expand both in Southern California and, someday, in Northern California," said managing partner Wally Martinez. "We've had Northern California in our eyes for a long time. We were waiting for the right opportunity."
Of Hunton's six Los Angeles partners, two were hired in April and a third joined the firm in early June. Martinez said the introduction of the labor and employment practice in Los Angeles is the third part of the firm's strategy there.
"It started with a products liability practice -- a strong one -- in Southern California," he said. "We then moved to environmental."
In San Francisco, he said, the firm wants to expand its general litigation, privacy and data protection, intellectual property and, eventually, its business practices.
"For now we're calling out those strategic areas," he said.
The firm is open-minded about opening other California offices but will only do so if the right opportunities present themselves, Martinez said. And while he has no specific goals for growth in San Francisco, Martinez said he hopes the office will mirror the Atlanta or Dallas offices, which have about 80 and 135 attorneys respectively.