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Chicago-based juggernaut Kirkland & Ellis has continued to increase headcount, revenue and profits firmwide. But in Los Angeles, key rainmakers are making less rain, and departures in the last six months have brought the 115-lawyer office to about 90 attorneys. With some of its leading lawyers reaching a stage where they’re choosing to slow down, around 20 attorneys � half of them partners � have left the L.A. office over the last half year, some for top competitors. “Some of the people who have been powerful figures in the office are moving on to other stages of their careers,” said John Weissenbach, the L.A. partner on the firm’s management committee. “And other partners are now more responsible for generating business.” Richard Welsh, a Kirkland partner who started at Greenberg Traurig on Monday, said less work may have driven some attorneys to look elsewhere. “There was a little less business than there used to be, so they were in the process of making the office smaller and that was creating some morale issues,” Welsh said. The flux leaves the L.A. office with roughly an equal number of partners and associates, according to the firm’s Web site � an aberration for 1,300-lawyer Kirkland, where associates usually outnumber partners. The firm’s 80-lawyer San Francisco office has around 30 partners. Weissenbach said the office is doing fine, and that the departures don’t fall outside the normal course of business. Still, he acknowledged that the office is a little out of balance. “The long run is better served if we have more associates than that,” he said. Weissenbach attributed the departures to attorneys leaving for other opportunities and the firm’s “review process,” which included decisions on partner equity. “Across the firm, it’s always the case that people move in and out of equity partnership,” Weissenbach said. “L.A. is no different.” One of the office’s longtime rainmakers said there is a bit of a vacuum in the office as older attorneys like himself step back.
‘Some of the people who have been power-ful figures in the office are moving on to other stages of their careers.’

John Weissenbach Kirkland & Ellis


“Can I yet point to three other people who are at the level I was at 10 years ago, eight years ago or even six years ago? No. But none of them are as old as I was,” said star trial lawyer Jeffrey Davidson, 59. “They’ll get there.” Davidson started the office in 1989. Last month he left the firmwide management committee, to be succeeded by the younger Weissenbach, 51. The Los Angeles office is strong in the areas of civil litigation, IP, bankruptcy and now in corporate law, with Weissenbach building a private equity practice there. The firm also recently lured Mark Holscher from O’Melveny & Myers to help build its white-collar practice on the West Coast. Welsh and Eric Hagen, an IP lawyer who left for McDermott, Will & Emery last week, said the shrinking size of Kirkland’s office didn’t push them out. Welsh acknowledged it had been a small consideration, but said opportunity at Greenberg Traurig � especially the chance to rise to equity partnership � made up his mind. Hagen said he was drawn to McDermott because of its “soup to nuts” IP practice, adding that he was “running into conflicts with some of the substantive matters” he was trying to bring to Kirkland. “It was really just trying to figure out where this work is going when it’s not going to Kirkland,” Hagen said. Peter Ocko, a Los Angeles recruiter with Major, Lindsey & Africa, said the departures won’t damage Kirkland in L.A. in the long run. “There isn’t any office, no matter how good it is, that doesn’t go through some adjustment,” Ocko said. “In the case of a Kirkland, for any partner or associate that leaves, there’ll be a partner or associate who wants to work there.”

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