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Plaintiffs Firms Still Hiring for Securities Class ActionsWhile so many law firms are making the news due to layoffs, a number of plaintiffs firms with securities class action practices are actually hiring associates. And not surprisingly, a good number of resumes they're seeing come from big defense firms. "What I keep hearing from associates at large defense firms is that they would rather play offense than defense," said Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossmann partner Blair Nicholas, whose 60-lawyer firm has added eight associates and four counsel since mid-2008.
The Recorder2009-03-31 12:00:00 AM
While so many firms are making the news for layoffs, a number of plaintiffs firms with securities class action practices are hiring associates.
Thanks to an influx of large financial and securities fraud cases, 60-lawyer Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossmann has added eight associates firmwide since mid-2008, San Diego partner Blair Nicholas said. In that time, the firm also hired four counsel. His firm also is among those that report seeing more defense-side resumes lately.
Although he said the firm has no target numbers for future hires, the search isn't over. "We're looking for associates at all levels in New York and San Diego," said Nicholas."We reassess our needs frequently -- probably on a monthly, if not more frequent, basis."
Those needs have been fueled in part by the financial meltdown, Nicholas said, which has spawned big cases, with more defendants and clients willing to pursue all avenues. Bernstein Litowitz has recently been appointed lead or co-lead counsel in securities fraud actions involving New Century Financial, Washington Mutual and Lehman Brothers, among others.
In Northern California, Joseph Tabacco Jr., the managing partner of Berman DeValerio's San Francisco office, said he, too, is actively seeking lawyers. Tabacco said he's planning to add up to two junior or senior associates to the 10-lawyer San Francisco office. "It would certainly help if they're steeped in antitrust or securities litigation, because we're busier in both areas," he said, adding that Berman DeValerio was recently appointed co-lead counsel in a Bear Stearns securities class action.
Girard Gibbs just hired two associates, one a third-year, the other a fifth-year. Managing Partner Daniel Girard said the firm continues to actively evaluate resumes, and that it's looking to add at least two more associates this year.
Girard Gibbs is involved in the In re Lehman Brothers securities litigation. It will also be lead counsel on auction rate cases against Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, UBS and other financial institutions.
"The market meltdown demonstrates that private rights of action under the federal securities laws play a critical role, particularly considering the failure of the SEC and other regulatory agencies to enforce adequate standards for disclosure," said Girard, who's based in San Francisco."The next five to 10 years in this field are going to be an interesting and very active time," he added.
New York lawyer Sam Lieberman has been a beneficiary of the activity. He recently managed to cross the divide from a defense firm.
About a month ago, Lieberman moved from Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, where he was the equivalent of an eighth-year associate, to join Bernstein Litowitz in New York as senior counsel. Trained in complex commercial and securities litigation, Lieberman said he felt that WilmerHale was focusing growth in other areas, such as regulatory, enforcement and IP work. Eager to move his career forward, he interviewed at some midsize firms last year. A headhunter turned him on to Bernstein Litowitz.
Lieberman said the interview process on the plaintiffs' side was more personal, covering not just business but also his goals and interests outside of work. By contrast, interviews at defense firms were "more brass tacks," with a focus on "what's your book of business" and "what are your portables," he said.
So far, he's happy with his move. "I think of myself more like a lawyer now," Lieberman said. "I'm reading the news with interest about how it might affect our clients, as opposed to waiting for the client to come to us, or waiting for a partner to come knocking on my door."
Not surprisingly, a good number of resumes that plaintiffs firm partners are seeing come from big defense firms. Bernstein Litowitz's Nicholas, for instance, said the firm has received inquiries from people at (or recently at) Latham & Watkins; Irell & Manella; and Munger, Tolles & Olson. He said that a year ago, between 15 to 20 percent of resumes came from defense-side applicants. These days it's about half.
"These are direct contacts, not coming from professional headhunters," he said. "What I keep hearing from associates at large defense firms is that they would rather play offense than defense, and would rather be taking depositions and appearing in court than simply reviewing documents and writing research memos for partners."
And with all the laid-off talent, Berman DeValerio's Tabacco said the quality of candidates has gone up: "The general pool of talent seems to have elevated in the last six months, across the board."
While Girard said he hasn't seen a huge influx of resumes from defense firms, he said Girard Gibbs is open to high-caliber candidates no matter where they come from. "A lot of very capable lawyers who are in clerkships are more likely to be interested in working on the plaintiffs' side than they might have been a few years ago," he said. "We are receptive to receiving resumes from defense side candidates who have practice experience in securities litigation," he added.
Not all firms focusing on securities class actions are hiring now.
Patrick Coughlin, San Diego partner at 190-lawyer Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins, said that with two major cases in wind-down mode, the firm isn't looking to hire in the near term. Lawyers working on two cases -- the Enron fraud case on behalf of the University of California, in which certain bank defendants obtained summary judgment last month, and a securities class action against UnitedHealthcare on behalf of CalPERS, in which final approval for a $900 million-plus settlement was granted this month -- have moved to new subprime-related work, Coughlin said. The biggest case where lead counsel have yet to be appointed is a shareholder class action against Bank of America, Coughlin said. "If we get that, we might consider hiring."
At Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, Managing Partner Steven Fineman said that his 60-lawyer firm is sticking to its plan of slow growth. "We look at very strong candidates coming out of law schools or clerkships for junior-lawyer hires," he said. "That's been our practice for years." Most recently, the firm has hired for need in the antitrust practice, and from its small summer program, but, "We don't have any immediate plans to go on a hiring spree."