Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM

Five partners from Drinker Biddle & Reath are leaving to take their national class action defense practice to Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.

Seamus Duffy, Michael McTigue, Meredith Slawe and Kathryn Deal will now be based in Texas-based Akin Gump’s Philadelphia office, while Michael Stortz will be based in San Francisco.

All five have served in leadership roles at Drinker Biddle. Duffy is a former managing partner of the firm and was chair of the class actions team, and McTigue was chair of Drinker Biddle’s litigation group. Additionally, Slawe previously chaired Drinker’s retail industry group, Slawe and Stortz were class action vice chairs, and Deal chaired the summer associate committee.

According to federal court records, the group’s clients have included Comcast, Chesapeake Energy Corp. and The Franklin Institute.

“We have worked with the Akin Gump West Coast class action litigators on a few cases,” Duffy said. “We weren’t necessarily looking to leave Drinker, but the opportunity to get together with that group and to join Akin … was just too good to pass up.”

Drinker Biddle announced new leadership for its litigation group of more than 125 lawyers. Chicago partner Dan Collins, who co-chairs the white-collar defense and corporate investigations practice, is now litigation chair. Partners Joanne Lewers and Andrew Joseph are now litigation vice chairs.

In a statement about the departures, Drinker Biddle said the group joining Akin Gump will continue to share clients with their former firm. “Lateral movement in the Am Law 100 is more frequent and like many firms today, we too have acquired talent in this way,” the firm’s statement said. “These departures in no way diminish the strength of our industry-leading litigation group, as we move forward with our initiatives that have resulted in strategic and record financial results over the last three years.”

Stephen Baldini, head of Akin Gump’s litigation practice, said his firm was connected with the group through a headhunter and found “the combination of a practice area that was right in our sweet spot, and people that we genuinely want to work with.”

While Philadelphia is “an attractive place to practice,” Baldini said, “we would have been interested in this group regardless of where they are practicing.”

Duffy said Akin Gump’s regulatory, privacy, data management and security, intellectual property litigation and labor and employment practices will serve the class action group’s clients well. “It’s the depth of the practices in these really key areas,” that drew the partners to Akin Gump, McTigue added.

Slawe said the group’s national class action practice has worked toward advising companies on how to avoid litigation exposure, “anticipating the next wave of class actions.” For that, the regulatory and data privacy practice strengths are especially helpful, she said.

The lawyers declined to answer questions about the size of their book of business. They did run up against some conflicts, Baldini said, which is bound to happen “anytime you deal with a firm of our size and a group of their size.” But the client benefits in communications, retail, energy, technology, life sciences and pharmaceuticals outweighed the conflicts in the move, Slawe said.

Akin Gump has a small but longstanding presence in Philadelphia, having opened the office in 1996. The office head count was 19 lawyers before the Drinker Biddle partners joined. Philadelphia partner Steven Maslowski heads the firm’s intellectual property practice. The combination of IP and class actions practices in Philadelphia will create opportunities for both groups, Baldini said.

While Baldini said geography was not a significant factor in building the class action practice, Duffy and Slawe said they were both pleased with the firm’s commitment to the Philadelphia market.

The firm’s San Francisco office, which Stortz is joining, is similarly sized, with 17 lawyers before his arrival.

The moves mark at least the second time this month that a sizable group of Philadelphia lawyers left a homegrown firm for an out-of-state firm. Last week, a group of 11 partners from Reed Smith, and one of counsel, left that firm to launch a Philadelphia office for Florida-based Holland & Knight.

Drinker Biddle also recently recruited a partner from Akin Gump—insurance litigator James Fitzgerald in Los Angeles. Also in LA, Drinker Biddle recently hired employee benefits and executive compensation partner Jeremy Pelphrey from Fox Rothschild. The firm has hired 12 lateral partners this year, a spokeswoman said.

But Drinker Biddle lost another team of litigators in Philadelphia this past spring, when 14 lawyers, led by partners Michael Miller, Gregory Star and Stephen Harris, made a move to Cozen O’Connor.