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Washington, D.C.’s Steptoe & Johnson opened a Chicago office on Tuesday with a nine-partner group of lawyers from Chicago’s Gardner Carton & Douglas. The group, led by Christopher Barber and Stephen O’Donnell and specializing in litigation work for the financial services, insurance, and reinsurance industries, will likely total 15 to 20 lawyers and staff members. Their departure from Gardner Carton, which announced this past November that it would merge with Philadelphia’s Drinker Biddle & Reath on Jan. 1, came as no surprise, as the group had obvious client conflicts with the new firm, says Drinker Biddle’s chairman, Alfred Putnam Jr. Drinker Biddle has a large investment-management practice and represents financial services institutions that are being sued by companies represented by Barber and O’Donnell, Putnam says. “They are good lawyers, and we were hoping we could make it work,” he says, but in the end the conflict couldn’t be resolved. Barber says the group was approached by a number of Chicago and national firms when news of the merger became public. Ultimately, they decided to go with Steptoe because of the firm’s “national and international reputation as a top-notch litigation firm,” he says. Steptoe’s London office proved to be an important attraction as well, he adds, because much of the group’s reinsurance work is U.K.-based. It’s not the first time the group has been prompted to look for a new home as a result of a merger. On Jan. 1, 2004, Barber, O’Donnell, and some of the other lawyers who are now joining Steptoe left then-Piper Rudnick. The move came as the firm was in the merger frenzy leading to the eventual creation of the 3,000-plus-lawyer DLA Piper. “That firm had the stated intent to be the world’s largest,” Barber says, “and that wasn’t a good fit for us.” The Gardner Carton group is likely to have some client conflicts with Steptoe as well, says Steptoe’s Chairman Roger Warin, but he notes that the firm has had a fair amount of success in getting clients it represents to waive conflicts. Moreover, it’s likely that they’ll have fewer conflicts with Steptoe than with other firms, Warin says. “Traditionally, we haven’t been a deal firm,” he explains, adding that the match would have been more difficult if Steptoe had had a substantial corporate practice representing financial institutions. The group’s arrival marks the second time in as many months that Steptoe has grown as a result of other firms’ mergers. In December, Steptoe brought on the Scott Group, a local lobby shop, which was formed as a result of some client-conflict issues stemming from the April merger of D.C.’s Collier Shannon Scott and New York-based Kelley Drye. Warin says the firm was looking to expand its national litigation footprint but wasn’t wedded to the idea of opening a Chicago office. “We were looking for talent, rather than location,” he says. “We found the lawyers first.” Still, the firm intends to add to the initial group in Chicago in the next year or so and has already begun interviewing other lawyers. Steve Davidson and Paul Mickey, two of the firm’s D.C.-based partners will coordinate the integration of the Chicago office. Last summer Steptoe opened a Century City, Calif., office, which now has 17 attorneys.
Alexia Garamfalvi can be contacted at [email protected].

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