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The exodus is on. Last week, partners Walter Andrews, Lon Berk, and 18 other lawyers from Shaw Pittman’s Northern Virginia-based insurance group jumped to the McLean, Va., office of Hunton & Williams. The March 1 move came just six days after fellow insurance partner Frank Winston and two associates announced their departure for Steptoe & Johnson. Then, on March 2, Robert Cohn, head of Shaw Pittman’s Washington-based aviation group, left for the D.C. office of Hogan & Hartson along with two counsel. When Shaw Pittman and Pillsbury Winthrop announced their intent to merge one month ago, firm leaders indicated the new Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman would shed as many as 150 attorneys. With 26 lawyers — including six partners — gone in one week, Shaw Pittman’s Northern Virginia and D.C. offices have so far borne the brunt of the departures. And many more lawyers could be packing their bags soon, as Pillsbury chairwoman Mary Cranston has set April 4 as the date to finalize the merger. “In the next few weeks, there probably could be others,” says Diane Zyats, a spokeswoman for Shaw Pittman. “In a merger this size, [client] conflicts are inevitable.” Conflicts with Pillsbury’s insurance practice, which represents policyholders, led to the departure of Shaw Pittman’s entire insurance group, which represents companies such as St. Paul Travelers Inc. and the Utica National Insurance Group. “We weren’t looking to leave Shaw Pittman,” says Andrews, who founded the firm’s practice group along with Winston and Berk after the trio left Wiley Rein & Fielding in 1999. “We’re sorry we had to.” Conflicts also led to the departure of Cohn’s aviation group, whose client list includes Delta Airlines. “[Pillsbury] represented clients that were adverse to my clients,” says Cohn. “Were it not for the merger, we would not be leaving.” But client conflicts may not be the only reason for future departures. Legal recruiters say that some Shaw Pittman attorneys, such as those in regulation or commodity litigation, may be forced out because their billing rates are too low for a firm with national aspirations like Pillsbury. Pillsbury Winthrop generated an average of $630,000 in revenue per lawyer in 2003, compared with $540,000 at Shaw Pittman, according to The American Lawyer‘s annual survey of the nation’s highest-grossing firms. For Hunton & Williams, the 20 new attorneys are a significant addition to what had been a 45-lawyer Northern Virginia office. Thomas Cawley, managing partner of the office, says that the new group’s leverage — its partner-to-associate ratio — was particularly attractive. Joining Hunton along with Andrews and Berk are partners Paul Janaskie and Edward Grass. They’re accompanied by 15 associates and one counsel. Cawley says that the new group is “a natural complement to the patent and toxic tort litigation that we’re already doing.” The move is just the largest in a series of recent lateral acquisitions that have substantially bolstered the firm’s D.C.-area head count. On March 1, Hunton announced the arrival of seven new attorneys to the energy practice in its D.C. office. Partners Patrick McCormick, Sean Cunningham, and Frederic Eames, and associate David Dardis came from the D.C. office of Balch & Bingham. Partner Thomas Trimble and counsel Jeremy Schwer jumped from the D.C. office of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. The firm also added William Cooper, formerly counsel to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the fourth veteran of the committee’s legal office to join the firm. “We are an energy law firm,” says the firm’s D.C. managing partner Andrea Bear Field, noting that as much as 25 percent of the firm’s revenue comes from energy clients. With the energy group and the addition of a 10-member international dispute resolution practice from Piper Rudnick last summer, Hunton’s D.C. head count stands at 146 lawyers — nearly a 50 percent increase since 2000. Counting the additions to its Northern Virginia office, the firm now has 200 attorneys in the metropolitan D.C. area, giving the Richmond, Va.-based firm a regional head count comparable to D.C.-based Williams & Connolly or Chicago-based McDermott Will & Emery. Field told Legal Times that she expects the firm to continue to grow in the area, but declined to specify a target head count. “I don’t think there’s a magic number,” she says. Jason McLure can be contacted at [email protected].

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