The attorneys, all of whom focus on energy transaction matters, will join the firm's New York office. Some of the attorneys made the move Monday, and others will start next week. They will all be members of the business and finance team.
Morgan Lewis has been focused on building its energy practice, expanding in Texas, in part, to that end. The firm said this latest addition will solidify its position as a full-service resource for the utilities industry. The attorneys concentrate largely on capital markets and transactions in the electric, gas and nuclear sectors.
Frank D'Amore of Attorney Career Catalysts said Morgan Lewis has really built up its energy group, particularly in the nuclear area. Thelen is "a really good firm" and for Morgan Lewis to add a group of that size to a practice of that significance in a market like New York, "that's a pretty big deal," he said.
Doug Davidson, former managing partner of Thelen's New York office and co-chairman of its corporate and securities group, is one of the 17 attorneys joining Morgan Lewis. He said his group began talking to the firm prior to Thelen's vote to dissolve but after it became clear the firm was not viable on its own.
He said they had relationships with Morgan Lewis attorneys in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Los Angeles from working together on prior deals. Some of the project finance attorneys in Thelen's energy practice in San Francisco had already left for Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe and other groups within the energy practice decided to go in different directions, Davidson said. His group focuses mainly on energy and utility finance, he said.
On the transactional side of the practice, Davidson said the heavy volume seen in the last four to five years has definitely slowed because of a tightening in the credit markets. He said many of the group's clients, however, are investment-grade clients that will continue to be in the market through 2009 simply because they have to be.
The renewable energy sector will also continue to be active and will probably see a boost given the incoming administration, he said.
Morgan Lewis has been focused on a resurgence in the nuclear energy field, with the majority of its energy attorneys concentrated on that area. The firm has represented several clients in the application process to build new nuclear reactors -- an area of client interest that hadn't really existed a few years back.
Morgan Lewis also represents owners of a number of existing nuclear energy plants. Despite some hiccups over conflict issues, the firm was able to maintain a $47.7 million contract awarded to it by the U.S. Department of Energy to assist in an application process for a nuclear waste depository in Nevada. The contract has the potential to exceed $100 million if various one-year extensions are granted.
There are more than 60 attorneys -- not including the Thelen group -- who work in Morgan Lewis' energy practice and a good majority of those are out of the firm's Washington, D.C., office, according to its Web site. The Thelen attorneys will be the first in the firm's New York office to focus on energy issues.
According to its Web site, which still includes the departing attorneys, Thelen had 42 lawyers in its energy practice. The group handled energy issues related to capital markets, construction, project finance privatization, tax structuring and bankruptcy, to name a few.
One New York-based source familiar with Thelen said the firm had a complicated way of keeping track of who was responsible for bringing in clients in terms of origination and managing the relationship. That has resulted, he claimed, in more than one Thelen partner representing that he or she would be bringing the same client to his or her new firm. He said he wasn't aware of that specifically happening with the group joining Morgan Lewis.
Davidson said his group was definitely not affected by such a scenario and said he never heard of that situation with any other Thelen attorneys either.
He said his group would be bringing "a very nice roster of clients" with them, mainly in the investor-owned utilities area and large financial institutions involved in the energy field. He wouldn't put a number on the group in terms of the revenue it might bring to Morgan Lewis.
Davidson said part of the excitement of joining Morgan Lewis, however, is the ability to meld the group's practice into the firm's finance and transactional practice around the world.
The same source who mentioned the origination issue said he heard Davidson's group was part of a larger group of attorneys thought to be heading to Nixon Peabody. The failure of merger talks between Thelen and Nixon Peabody was what ultimately led to Thelen's dissolution. Nixon Peabody recently announced that it would be taking on a number of Thelen attorneys, with some reports citing 90.
Davidson said Nixon Peabody was one of several firms his group talked to after the merger fell apart. He said it wasn't clear they weren't joining Nixon Peabody, or any other firm, until the group signed offers a little more than a week ago with Morgan Lewis.
Jerry Kowalski of Kowalski & Associates in New York said the one thing that is clear in this market is that, given the Nov. 4 election results, "energy is going to be the most significant area of growth in the U.S. for probably the next decade." He said there are a few people in the group joining Morgan Lewis who are "very well regarded" in their practice.
The problem for attorneys leaving any firm that faced dissolution, Kowalski said, is a lingering question by potential clients about the attorneys' abilities to advise the client's business when they couldn't run their own. The thing to look for is which clients follow the attorneys and where loyalties lie, he said. Morgan Lewis will get eight partners from the Thelen group and several senior counsel and counsel along with a few associates.
Davidson will join the firm as a partner along with John Hood, Bob Reger, Thomas P. Giblin Jr., Mahendra Churamen, Walter Godlewski, Bobbi O'Connor and Kim Reisler.
Bill Baker, Marc Lasky and Steve Kinney will join as senior counsel and Jennifer Goldberg, Michael Connolly and Maria Ross will join as counsel. Associates Matthew Murphy, Jonathan Shade and Anand Shah will also make the move to Morgan Lewis.