(l-r) Joel Jankowsky, Don Pongrace, and Jorge Lopez Jr., of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.
(l-r) Joel Jankowsky, Don Pongrace, and Jorge Lopez Jr., of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/NLJ.)

The yearlong exodus of partners from Patton Boggs will continue into the Washington firm’s last days, as four health care policy partners shift this week to Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. At the same time, other Patton Boggs partners—including Patton Boggs’ eight-lawyer Anchorage office, which will not join merged firm Squire Patton Boggs—are racing to discuss their prospects at other firms.

John Jonas, a Patton Boggs executive committee member, will lead Akin Gump’s health policy team, a group that will work within the firm’s lobbying presence and with regulatory lawyers. The team begins on June 2.

Patton lawyers Martha Kendrick, Karen Smith Thiel and Anurag Varma will join Jonas as partners at Akin. Senior counsel Richard Thompson, senior policy adviser Todd Tuten and independent counsel Lu Zawistowich will also make the move. The group represents a sizable chunk of Patton’s lobbying business, especially in the health care arena. In 2013, Jonas worked on more than $6 million in publicly disclosed business.

The group’s move is the first announcement since Squire Patton Boggs ratified its merger May 23. After months of Patton Boggs shedding books of business and millions in lobbying clients, the latest moves solidify Akin Gump as holding, for the moment, the largest lobbying department in Washington.

“Our goal was to make the premier health industry practice in the country,” Jorge Lopez Jr., chairman of Akin Gump’s existing health industry practice, said in an interview this week. “I was just impressed by how substantive they are. They’re going to help us think through our regulatory issues.”

“There are no surprises here,” Patton Boggs managing partner Ed Newberry, who will stay in a firmwide management position at Squire Patton Boggs, said Wednesday night. “We are aware of all planned lateral moves and these were anticipated and were factored into our financial models.”

Newberry continued: “While we are disappointed that John and some of his team are leaving, the combined firm will maintain one of the highest-ranked health care practices among firms globally with more than 110 lawyers servicing blue-chip health care clients around the world. It is this type of global breadth and depth in many substantive areas that makes [Squire Patton Boggs] a blockbuster.”

Donald Pongrace, who leads Akin Gump’s public policy department, did not have the time line about when Jonas, Kendrick and partners began speaking with the firm about leaving Patton Boggs, or who reached out first.

Jonas has known Akin’s legislative lobbying veteran Joel Jankowsky for years, and he had worked with Akin Gump partner Robert Leonard at the U.S. House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee in the 1980s.

“They fit in,” Jankowsky said in an interview.

A headhunter was not involved in the deals, and the Akin partners declined to say how much the individuals would earn.

NEW LOBBYING LEADER

According to data collected by Opensecrets.org, last year, Patton Boggs collected $39.8 million in lobbying revenues. But Patton Boggs’ overall lobbying income in the 2014 first quarter appears to be less than what it was last year, and at a step below Akin Gump already.

According to Capitol Metrics, a lobbying database, Patton took in $7.045 million in the first quarter of the year. Akin Gump raked in $8.57 million in the first quarter of 2014. Patton had 191 clients to Akin Gump’s 166, and average fees per client were $36,885 compared with Akin Gump’s $51,627. The firms for years have ranked ahead in revenue and headcount compared with any other lobbying practices—legal shops or other.

The addition of the health care partners is a coup for Akin Gump in a hot practice area—one that’s enticed firms to branch into subsidiaries and remodel business plans to attract clients. It’s a practice area with high margins and potential for growth.

The passage of the Affordable Care Act, Lopez said, changed the structure of the health care industry. Hospitals and pharmaceutical companies have rushed to consolidate and startups have entered the marketplace.

That shift allowed legal service providers to expand their advocacy services outside of Capitol Hill. Clients that seek legal help with private equity and investments or with intellectual property and regulatory fields may invest more in advocacy. That’s shifted the work toward federal agencies like the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Lopez said.

ANCHORAGE AWAY

In another loss of a practice group, Squire Patton Boggs had jointly decided to close Patton’s Anchorage office, Newberry said in his email. A representative from Holland & Knight flew to Alaska on Thursday to discuss a plan for three partners and other attorneys, according to several people familiar with the discussions. The deal isn’t yet done, the sources said.

The office, which was set up in 1995 to handle litigation and government-policy matters for Exxon Mobil Corp. in the aftermath of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, had 12 lawyers at its peak in the mid to late 2000s. It has declined to eight: three partners, three counsel and two associates.

Those said to be in talks to move include Walter Featherly, the office’s managing partner, who has handled matters for Alaska Native American corporations four three decades; Douglas Serdahely, a former Alaska Superior Court justice; and Michael White, a veteran civil litigator.

The three Anchorage partners had not returned calls and emails requesting comment at press time. It wouldn’t be the first group that Holland & Knight had poached from Patton Boggs; the firm grabbed two dozen lawyers from Patton Boggs’ Dallas office last year as well as the head of government contracts, Robert Tompkins.

Early this week, a fourth lawyer from Patton Boggs’ Anchorage office, litigation partner Barat LaPorte, joined Seattle-based Oles Morrison Rinker & Baker, The American Lawyer confirmed Wednesday via an Oles Morrison spokeswoman.

According to several lawyers and consultants in Washington who have seen résumés in recent weeks, other partners and groups at Squire Sanders and Patton Boggs are on the market to move even after the merger finalizes June 1.

Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman is in talks with more than a dozen partners at Patton Boggs who are considering leaving the firm, according to someone familiar with the discussions. None of those moves would happen before the June 1 closing of the Squire Patton Boggs merger, the person said.

Meanwhile, at Squire Sanders, four health care partners, including the practice group head, resigned in late April but have yet to be allowed by Squire’s management to move to their positions at Jones Day.

The question still remains, though, why partners are moving, and when job changes will be official.

Over the past year, attorneys who’ve left Patton have cited numerous reasons, including seeking personal changes in the culture or platform of a firm, as well as the financial stresses the firm has faced.

In lobbying alone, Patton Boggs lost Jonathan Yarowsky to Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr in July 2013 and Darryl Nirenberg to Steptoe & Johnson LLP in February.

The merger situation also presents the possibility of conflicts or other planned downsizing that would force partners out.

“Substantially everybody from both firms will be joining the combined firm,” Squire Patton Boggs chairman and CEO James Maiwurm said in a conference call on Tuesday. The conflicts, he added, “were fewer than expected.”

Maiwurm had said that “a few” attorneys would leave because they “don’t feel comfortable” with the change.

The Akin Gump health care lawyers were not among those conflicted out.

Contact Katelyn Polantz at The National Law Journal at kpolantz@alm.com. Contact Julie Triedman at affiliate publication The American Lawyer at jtriedman@alm.com.