Three years after joining Bingham McCutchen as head of the securities enforcement practice after stepping down as FINRA’s enforcement chief, Susan Merrill and 10 other Bingham partners are decamping to Sidley Austin.
Sidley called the new addition "one of the most experienced and prominent securities enforcement and regulatory teams in the country."
Four partners are joining Sidley’s New York office, including Merrill, Nader Salehi, Gerald Russello and Kenneth Kopelman.
The team also includes Neal Sullivan, head of Bingham’s broker-dealer group, and Michael Wolk in Washington, D.C.; Robert Buhlman in Boston; W. Hardy Callcott in San Francisco; and Herbert Janick III, Corin Swift and Eric Seltzer in Portland, Maine. Seltzer will be counsel; all others will be Sidley partners.
In recruiting the team, Sidley said it will establish offices in Boston and Portland.
The New York Times’ DealBook was first to report the news that the Bingham lawyers were on the move, which was confirmed late April 1 to Law Journal affiliate The Am Law Daily by a Bingham spokeswoman, who added that the firm wishes the group well.
"Our view is they are lawyers with great reputations, we are sorry to see them leave, and we wish them well in their new endeavors," said Timothy Burke, cochair of Bingham’s financial services area and now the head of the broker-dealer practice. "Bingham McCutchen has a very strong broker-dealer practice, and will continue to have a strong practice after these folks leave. Two-thirds of the lawyers in the broker-dealer group will remain—approximately 20 partners and another 40 or so associates and counsel—and it’s a talented group."
Burke added in an interview yesterday, "We don’t expect it to affect any client relationships or have any adverse economic consequence for 2013. The point being, we still have a large, vibrant group practicing in this area. It’s not as though the entire practice group has left."
Michael Schmidtberger, managing partner of Sidley’s New York office, said in an interview that the new team will require support from "a combination of our existing lawyers and we’ll have to bring on other lawyers to support this practice group."
He declined to comment on where any other laterals might come from or how many the firm is interesting in hiring.
"When we were approached by this opportunity," he said, it was a chance to enhance the firm’s resources in an in-demand practice. "We expect there to be continued opportunities for major assignments, given the regulatory and enforcement environments."
Schmidtberger said Sidley attorneys had worked with the team on some of the same client matters.
In a statement in Sidley’s press release, Sullivan said Sidley "add(s) to our ability to serve clients in our core practice and also have strong practices in complementary areas including securities and commercial litigation, white collar investigations and defense and accountants’ liability. It certainly was important to our decision that we felt comfortable that Sidley offered the best opportunity for practice growth."
Sullivan and Janick played key roles in Bingham’s effort to lure Merrill—a onetime partner at Davis Polk & Wardwell—to the firm from FINRA three years ago, according to previous reports from AmLaw Daily.
Sidley’s Carter Phillips—a veteran appellate litigator who argued his 100th case before the U.S. Courts of Appeals in December and was designated last April to succeed current firm chair Thomas Cole—declined to comment when reached April 1. Cole, a corporate partner in Chicago, will step aside this month to make way for Phillips as sole chair of Sidley under the succession plan announced last year.
The hires come roughly a year after Sidley hired Wendy Lazerson, Bingham’s former labor and employment cochair, as a partner in Palo Alto.
The Sidley raid on Bingham comes as the former copes with a few high-profile departures of its own. Last week, for instance, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati snagged five IP litigation partners from Sidley in Los Angeles and Silicon Valley, according to The Recorder, an affiliate of the Law Journal. Since the beginning of the year, Sidley has also lost litigation partner Ing Loong Yang to Latham & Watkins in Hong Kong, labor and employment partner Steven Catlett to Schiff Hardin in Chicago, and insurance litigation partner Jeffrey Crane to Edwards Wildman Palmer, also in Chicago, where Sidley has its roots.
Washington, D.C.-based litigation partner Jay Jorgensen left the firm last year to become the new global chief of compliance at retail giant Wal-Mart, according to Corporate Counsel. The D.C. office also lost litigation partner Bradford Berenson, who joined General Electric as its vice president and senior counsel for litigation and legal policy, according to The Blog of Legal Times. Another defector, Lee Smolen, the head of Sidley’s real estate practice until last year, recently resurfaced at DLA Piper in Chicago. Corporate Counsel and Legal Times are also affiliates of the Law Journal.
Amid the losses, Sidley has also remained active in the lateral hiring market in 2012. The firm brought on a handful of partners from the now-defunct Dewey & LeBoeuf, as well as adding Latham digital media and Internet industry cochair Glenn Nash to serve as the new co-head of its technology transactions practice and former Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman trade and commodities finance practice co-head Alexander Moon.
The early part of 2013 has seen Sidley continue to add to its partner head count. In March, the firm hired former Cooley technology transactions partner Jennifer Coplan in New York, former Vinson & Elkins tax partner Timothy Devetski in Houston, and former King & Spalding M&A partner Mark Thompson, who will split his time between New York and London.
Others joining Sidley this year include Singapore-based investment funds partner Han Ming Ho, who jumped over from Clifford Chance; M&A partner Michael O’Brien, who joined in New York from Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr; and former Adobe Systems general counsel Karen Cottle, who is now a senior technology counsel in Sidley’s Palo Alto office.
Sidley also brought back former partner Joshua Rovine—previously the general counsel of advisory services at private equity firm The Blackstone Group—as an investment funds partner in New York, and hired trusts and estate partner Andrew Auchincloss—the son of late writer and New York lawyer Louis Auchincloss—in New York from asset management firm AllianceBernstein, where he had headed the wealth management group.
The American Lawyer’s early reporting on large firm finances shows that Sidley had a solid year in 2012 with gross revenues rising 5 percent to $1.49 billion and profits per partner surging 12 percent to $1.8 million. Those figures were fueled in part by the more than $100 million in fees the firm took in serving as lead debtor’s counsel in the long-running bankruptcy of client the Tribune Company.
As for Bingham, the firm saw its gross revenues inch up 0.4 percent last year, to $872 million, while its profits per partner fell 1.5 percent, to $1.69 million, according to The American Lawyer’s preliminary Am Law 100 reporting. Last fall Bingham confirmed plans to consolidate its back office operations in Lexington, Ky. In February, the firm announced that L. Tracee Whitley, the COO, would also head to the Bluegrass State, according to AmLaw Daily’s previous reports.
Even before the April 1 losses, Bingham had already seen about 10 partners leave so far this year: litigation partner Geoffrey Aronow, joined the SEC as its new general counsel, and energy and project finance experts Tara Higgins, Torsten Marshall, and Rafael Galvan joined Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe in January, according to the New York Law Journal.
On the plus side of the ledger, Bingham has picked up corporate partner James Chapman and of counsel Stephen Clinton from Foley & Lardner, as well as transactional partner Michael DiSanto from Dinsmore & Shohl, all of whom joined the firm’s Palo Alto office earlier this month, according to The Recorder.
@|Brian Baxter, a reporter at Am Law Daily, an affiliate, can be contacted at email@example.com. Tom Huddleston Jr., Sara Randazzo and Christine Simmons contributed to this report.