In a major expansion at a time of widespread fear, Hartford-based Robinson & Cole has agreed to absorb more than 30 Thelen lawyers from its Hartford and New York offices to expand its 225-lawyer firm.
Thelen's strong core of construction lawyers and technology specialists are expected to bolster Robinson & Cole's existing practices, said managing partner Eric Daniels.
The move adds heft to Robinson & Cole's construction, real estate, employment and finance practice groups, among others.
"It's a smart move and good pick-up," said Connecticut-based law firm consultant Peter Giuliani, but not one that challenges Day Pitney's status as the leading law firm in the state.
Daniels said the additions will specifically allow the firm to expand its intellectual property practice and its presence in the New York City office where a group of about 10 attorneys practice in areas such as commercial litigation, employment and real estate.
Daniels added that his firm developed a strategic plan in 2001 that included strengthening the firm's New York office, beefing up its construction practice, and adding to its intellectual property and technology law capacity. "This acquisition helps us accomplish many of our key objectives," he said.
All but one of the Hartford-based Thelen partners are making the move, according to Robinson & Cole officials, including Norman Roos, who managed Thelen's Hartford office.
Brian J. Donnell, who is part of Thelen's construction practice, is the lone Hartford-based Thelen partner who was not announced as part of the deal. New York-based partner Andrew Kramer, who maintains a real estate practice, also is joining Robinson & Cole as one of nine Thelen partners making the move.
Thelen's construction and technology practices were the firm's calling card.
Nine construction lawyers from Halloran & Sage moved in 2004 to the Hartford office of national firm Brown, Raysman, Millstein & Felder. Brown Raysman, a technology-centered firm based in New York, subsequently merged with San Francisco-based Thelen.
Roos said in a written statement that he is "delighted" about the move.
Daniels said Robinson & Cole was in talks with the Hartford Thelen office in September, "when the game plan at Thelen was the active pursuit of a merger." Happily, he said "we were into those discussions before the nature of the beast changed, and what they were really confronted with was dissolution as opposed to merger.
"Even with that we were left with a month to put the deal together, a very aggressive time frame," he added. "I thought that it would be a shame to not be able to take advantage of an opportunity that offered a lot of strategic value, simply because it would be difficult to put together in the time frame allowed."
Thelen's partnership voted on Nov. 4 to dissolve the firm by Dec. 1. The firm said that the dissolution was hastened by a rash of lawyer defections since the 2006 merger of California-based Thelen Reid and New York-based Brown Raysman Milstein Felder & Steiner. Before the announcement, more than 100 attorneys had left the firm, including name partners Peter Brown, Jeffrey Steiner and Richard Raysman.
The defections breached a partner departure covenant in the firm's credit agreement with its bank.
That triggered an all-out scramble for jobs.
"At this point it is every group for themselves and not a coordinated top-down plan," said San Francisco-based Thelen spokesman Kevin Livingston. "Thelen really doesn't exist anymore. I barely know what is going on in San Francisco."
This is the second time in the last few months that Robinson & Cole picked up attorneys from a firm in transition. In September, Robinson & Cole bolstered its environmental practice by hiring Ronald Zdrojeski and David Greene, both partners, from Dewey & LeBoeuf, which has announced its intentions of closing the Hartford office in early 2009 to focus on bigger markets.
Earlier this month, 90 ex-Thelen lawyers on both the associate and partner levels and additional support staff joined Nixon Peabody's Silicon Valley office, which more than tripled in size following the transaction.
Last week, Washington, D.C.-based litigation firm Howrey announced that it was adding to its 750-lawyer ranks by nabbing more than 40 lawyers from Thelen's construction practice, including Thelen's former chairman Stephen O'Neal and 18 partners total. Those lawyers, who are all litigators, are primarily located in San Francisco and Washington, while others are in New York and Los Angeles.
O'Neal told The Recorder, sister publication of The Connecticut Law Tribune, that the construction group was seeking a new home that would provide coverage of Thelen's current scope plus Europe and Texas.
Pittsburgh-based Reed Smith also stepped in last week and grabbed 14 ex-Thelen lawyers in the renewable energy practice, adding to Reed Smith's lineup of more than 1,500 attorneys. Those attorneys will be spread across Reed Smith offices in San Francisco, New York and New Jersey.