Thelen's China practice has left the firm for Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman.
The 20-attorney team is led by partners Thomas Shoesmith, the head of Thelen's Shanghai office; Mary Utterback; Joseph Tiano Jr. and Louis Bevilacqua. Shoesmith will head Pillsbury's Shanghai office where he will be joined by Utterback, while Tiano and Bevilacqua will remain in Washington, D.C.
The team includes three of counsel and 13 associates working out of offices in Shanghai, D.C. and San Francisco. The size of the team joining Pillsbury was still unclear as late as Friday, according to a Pillsbury spokesperson.
The loss of the practice comes amid widespread rumors that Thelen's merger talks with Nixon Peabody have been called off. In a memo apparently sent to San Francisco attorneys and staff on Friday, and then posted on the Above the Law blog, Chairman Stephen O'Neal acknowledged that rumors had been swirling, but didn't address them other than to indicate that no announcement was imminent.
"I understand the rumor mill is churning away and some big announcement is anticipated. Sorry to disappoint everyone," he wrote, according to the Above the Law post. He said the firm continues to look for merger opportunities and ended by thanking the recipients for their loyalty and wished them a good weekend. Nixon wouldn't comment, and calls and e-mails to a Thelen spokesperson on Friday and Monday, and a call to O'Neal on Monday, were not returned.
Thelen boasted 630 lawyers at the time of its December 2006 merger with Brown Raysman Millstein Felder & Steiner. The firm's Web site listed 434 attorneys before the departures to Pillsbury. Headcount has dropped by about 100 attorneys since early March according to comparisons of saved and current copies of the firm's Web site.
The China practice had been a high priority for O'Neal, former partners said.
"It was one of their intended growth areas," said Marc Sockol, who jumped from Thelen to Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton's Silicon Valley office in April.
Other former partners agreed but added that the China practice, which Shoesmith launched in 2005, hadn't been especially profitable.
The Washington, D.C., partners, however, will bring "a very healthy amount of business" with them, said Dan Binstock, the head of BCG Attorney Search's D.C. office.
"It's my impression that the corporate/China practice has done the most lateral hiring [in the D.C. office] recently," he said.
In August, Tiano told Legal Times, The Recorder's D.C.-based affiliate, that the practice is worth "many millions of dollars." His group takes Chinese companies public in the United States through reverse mergers. He said the group was hearing from headhunters but was taking it on a "day-by-day basis." For his part, Bevilacqua told Legal Times that as long as Thelen "continues to be supportive," the duo would stay put.
The practice was "two-pronged," Pillsbury Chairman James Rishwain Jr. told sister publication Am Law Daily. The team represented foreign companies doing business in China and advised small- and medium-sized Chinese companies going public in Western markets.
Thelen ranked 76th in this year's Am Law 100 rankings with gross revenues of $345 million and profits per equity partner of $810,000, compared with $590 million in gross revenues and profits per equity partner of $985,000 for 46th-ranked Pillsbury.