Becker & Poliakoff acquired two law firms in a single week. Based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with about 160 attorneys, Becker announced on October 2 that it was opening a Northern Virginia office with the acquisition of Litman Law, a five-attorney patent firm in Manassas. Just four days earlier, it announced that it was acquiring Cornett, Googe & Associates, a four-lawyer practice in Port St. Lucie, Fla., which focuses on community association law.
Dewey & LeBoeuf declared bankruptcy on May 28, marking the largest law firm insolvency in history. The New York firm, which at its peak in 2008 had 1,450 attorneys, reported $315 million in liabilities at the time, $225 million of which was bank debt. The firm’s demise was attributed primarily to pay guarantees for underperforming partners in a struggling economy. The firm’s estate is setto auction its artwork on February 1.
THE CREAM RISES
Several top firms announced replacements for long-term leaders. Morrison & Foerster chairman Keith Wetmore was succeeded in October by Larren Nashelsky. Bruce McLean, chairman of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, will step down in March to make room for Kim Koopersmith. Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe chairman Ralph Baxter announced plans to resign in 2014, when Mitchell Zuklie will take over. At DLA Piper, Roger Meltzer and Jay Rains in January will take over U.S. operations from Frank Burch, Lee Miller and Terry O’Malley.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on November 21 revived a lawsuit by personal injury law firm Jacoby & Meyers challenging New York state ethics rules and laws forbidding nonlawyer ownership of law firms. The challenge came as countries including Australia and the United Kingdom have loosened such restrictions. Jacoby was credited as the first law firm in the nation to advertise on television, in 1977.
Hurricane Sandy collided with arctic air on October 29, creating a superstorm that shut down a broad swath of the East Coast — including, naturally, the legal sector. The storm flooded scores of communities, blanketed others in snow and left 110 people dead. Economic losses were estimated at $50 billion. Law firms in New York’s financial district and along New Jersey’s coastline went without power for days, in some cases weeks.
Douglas Arntsen, a former of-counsel real estate attorney at Crowell & Moring in New York, was sentenced in October to between 4 and 12 years in prison for embezzling nearly $11 million from clients. He hightailed it to Hong Kong in August 2011 after a client confronted him about the whereabouts of deposits on real estate sales. He was arrested there and extradited in January.
Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom announced on October 22 that it had recruited former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald of Chicago. Fitzgerald prosecuted two Illinois governors, George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich, plus Bush White House aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby Jr. He announced in May that he was leaving government practice. When asked by reporters at the time whether he would consider private practice, he said, “Can you see me as a defense attorney?”
The percentage of women associates at major law firms in 2012 declined for the third year in a row — if very, very slightly — according to NALP. Women accounted for 45.05 percent of all associates. During 2011, their percentage was 45.35. It was only the third time since NALP began tracking the numbers in 1993 that women’s percentage has dropped. Beth Kaufman, president of the National Association of Women Lawyers, said that the relatively low percentages of women partners and disparities in pay are blocking the professional pipeline: “Women are asking themselves, ‘If I’m not going to advance and I’m not going to make as much money, is this a profession where I want to be?’ ”
SNR Denton on November 28 announced that partners had approved a three-way merger with Salans, which originated in Paris, and Canada’s Fraser Milner Casgrain. The deal, effective early in 2013, will create Dentons, a 2,500-lawyer global giant with a mammoth energy practice.
NOVAK DRUCE CONNOLLY BOVE + QUIGG
Connolly Bove Lodge & Hutz and Novak Druce + Quigg on November 29 announced a merger creating a 125-attorney intellectual property superboutique. The combined firm, set to launch in January, will be known as Novak Druce Connolly Bove + Quigg and will have seven offices. Novak Druce is based in Houston and Connolly Bove in Wilmington, Del.
Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan announced in January that William Burck, former deputy counsel to President George W. Bush, would co-manage the litigation firm’s Washington office. Burck served under Bush from 2005 to 2009, after which he joined Weil, Gotshal & Manges’ Washington office as a litigation partner. Before working for the White House, he was an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York.
K&L GATES DOWN UNDER
K&L Gates on December 3 said that it was merging with Australia’s Middletons, creating a 2,000-lawyer firm with 46 offices internationally. The merger, effective January 1, will give K&L Gates offices in Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney and Perth. K&L Gates originated from Pittsburgh’s Kirkpatrick & Lockhart, which in 2005 combined with U.K. firm Nicholson Graham & Jones. In 2007, Seattle’s Preston Gates & Ellis joined the party.
Law firms expanded into the Los Angeles area including Santa Monica’s “Silicon Beach” amid a convergence of the technology and entertainment industries. Cooley opened an L.A. office in July and Thompson & Knight in October. Also expanding in the area were Pepper Hamilton; Winston & Strawn; Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton; LeClairRyan; and Foley & Mansfield.
NORTON ROSE FULBRIGHT
Houston-based Fulbright & Jaworski announced on November 14 that it was combining with Canada’s Norton Rose to create a 3,800-lawyer enterprise, effective on June 1, 2013. The firm will be known as Norton Rose Fulbright and will have 55 offices worldwide.
Managing partners at midsize law firms across the country reported guarded optimism about business opportunities for 2013. A NLJ survey of leaders at firms with fewer than 400 attorneys showed that most planned to add lawyers — although not many — to their practices. They also expected higher profits per partner.