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Just two weeks ago, Nossaman Guthner Knox & Elliott issued a press release crediting long-time Managing Partner Scott DeVries for the firm’s record growth. Which is what makes DeVries’ sudden exit Wednesday appear all the more startling. Indeed, his resignation � announced in a late afternoon e-mail � seems to have pulled the rug from under the partnership, some of whom believed DeVries would be re-elected to an eighth consecutive term this month. Instead, the litigator joined the San Francisco office of Winston & Strawn, effective Feb. 1. “We were coming off our best year that we ever had and we’ve been on an upward trajectory, so I think it was a surprise to us,” said David Kimport, who was named interim managing partner in the wake of DeVries’ departure. “We had no idea this was coming up. He had been doing a fabulous job as managing partner.” But even as he helped Nossaman achieve better financial results, DeVries appears to have been an increasingly polarizing figure inside the firm. “He was our managing partner for a long time and this particular year there seemed to be growing opposition with regard to his being re-elected,” said Howard Coleman, head of real estate in Los Angeles. “There was talk about a contested election, where he would have to run against someone else.” Coleman, who said he was neither surprised by DeVries’ departure nor by its abruptness, said it was his personal opinion that if DeVries was not chief of the firm, he would not want to be part of the firm. DeVries couched his departure in terms of mission accomplished. “I would say there’s enormous potential at Nossaman,” he said. “However, I felt that I had met and exceeded my objectives. I was thrilled with what I had been able to achieve, with Nossaman and for Nossaman, and it was time for me to go back to what I do.” “I’m a trial lawyer,” he continued. “If you’re going to go back to being a trial lawyer, what better law firm in the country to be at than Winston.” DOING A RAINDANCE In its press release last month, Nossaman reported per partner profits had surpassed $500,000, a 75 percent increase from seven years ago, when DeVries took over as managing partner. The firm increased the number of attorneys and lobbyists by 45 percent from 93 in 2000 to 135 today, DeVries said in the press release. The firm’s revenues doubled from $35 million in 1999 to nearly $70 million today, he said. But there would be no quote from DeVries in the release sent out this week. The firm’s former managing partner had been in talks with Winston since November, he said. And though he declined to comment on his bonus from Nossaman, Coleman said it came through a week and a half ago. DeVries was the firm’s No. 2 rainmaker with a book valued at between $2 million and $2.5 million, according to Kimport. With more than 20 years of litigation experience, DeVries has represented corporations and public entities in the trial and appeal of complex civil cases, including insurance coverage, environmental and mass and toxic torts. At Nossaman, he represented some of the firm’s biggest clients, including Aerojet, a Sacramento-based rocket and missile propulsion manufacturer, and Nucor Corp. He said he expects his major clients to make the move with him, but wouldn’t specify which. DeVries was one of six big fish at the firm, Kimport said. Only partner Geoffrey Yarema, head of the firm’s infrastructure practice, had a bigger book. REAL ESTATE SLUMP On the abrupt nature of his move, DeVries said that “once you say you’re going to leave, you are an enormous distraction to the organization.” “I have seen that in the past, when people stick around for a couple of weeks before leaving,” he continued. “I’m a firm believer that when a bond is broken it should be broken cleanly. It’s best for everyone.” Nossaman has carved a niche in infrastructure, representing state departments of transportation in the financing and building of public roads and toll facilities. The group, employing 25 attorneys, represented almost 24 percent of firm revenue in 2006 and has driven its national expansion, according to the firm. Nossaman opened a Seattle office last August, and Virginia and Texas branches in the previous two years. On the other hand, real estate, which contributed a little more than 8 percent to last year’s gross revenues, has not been robust, according to L. William Nason, a recruiter with San Diego-based Watanabe Nason Schwartz & Lippman. The firm’s real estate practice was a targeted growth area, Nason said. Nossaman is a client of Nason’s, who said he had not placed anyone in the real estate practice in 2006. Not too many firms specialize in infrastructure because of inherent real estate client conflicts, he added. “Nossaman does work for development companies, but it’s increasingly difficult in representing cities, power districts and water districts,” Nason said. “You’re simply going to run adverse to development companies a good portion of the time.” But Nossaman partners say that they don’t experience more client conflict than might be expected. “We represent the Orange County transportation corridor agencies and the Alameda Corridor Transportation Authority in Los Angeles,” Coleman said. “These are large infrastructure projects and we do all the real estate work for them. Not only is there not friction between the groups, there’s a great deal of synergy.” Coleman said there was no one reason for the opposition to DeVries, but acknowledged that the firm’s growing pains had taken a toll. “Any time you have growth, you’re going to have some people that are not happy, because you may have to work a little harder, you may not have certain clients [because they aren't an economic fit], so growth will yield some negative consequences,” he said, adding that DeVries can’t be blamed for those consequences. One former partner said friction had been growing between the firm’s emerging infrastructure practice and its stagnant real estate practice, both competing for talent within the firm. “The two groups routinely raid each other’s talent, they fight over associates and partners,” the lawyer said. “The practice groups are pretty insular over there. � There wasn’t really any cross-pollenization there.” Nossaman partners reject the raiding notion, simply saying that practices will borrow attorneys who are not busy in another area. According to recruiters, Nossaman has been known for its stable and collegial culture, in which few partners leave. Chicago-based Winston & Strawn reported 2006 per partner profits of $1,115,000. The firm employs nearly 800 lawyers, 183 of them equity partners, according to the 2006 Am Law survey. Winston’s San Francisco Managing Partner Charles Birenbaum said DeVries would join the firm’s 65-lawyer San Francisco office as partner. “We have been growing very solidly and we’re bringing in very good people who are leaders in their firms,” he said, adding that DeVries’ reputation as a prominent litigator who handles high exposure product liability, mass tort and general commercial litigation is consistent with the firm’s strengths. Annual managing partner elections at Nossaman will proceed as usual, the firm said. It expects a new managing partner to be named by mid-February.

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