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Insurance Defense Spinoff A six-lawyer insurance defense group will leave El Paso-based Scott & Hulse by Sept. 1 to form a new litigation boutique. “It’s just the needs that we have � in terms of staff, research tools � differ from the needs of, say, the tax lawyers or the corporate lawyers, and that’s all there is to it,” says Wayne Windle, one of the Scott & Hulse shareholders who plans to leave for the new firm. It will be called Windle, Hood, Alley, Norton, Brittain & Jay. The chairman of Scott & Hulse, W. David Bernard, says it just became too difficult to maintain an insurance defense practice along with the rest of the firm’s offerings, which include business, transactional, labor and employment, and commercial litigation. “What we are acknowledging is the same forces that have affected many of the other firms in the state . . . so to a certain extent we have been bucking the trend, largely due to personal relationships,” Bernard says. Bernard says it’s no secret that insurance companies have been putting pressure on Texas firms for years to lower billing rates and to bid on work, and it’s difficult for general practice firms to keep overhead low enough to make the insurance defense practice profitable. “By necessity it has to be low overhead, high volume, limited use of paralegals [and] limited staff,” Bernard says. Windle says it’s true his group has different needs in staff and research tools, and he believes both firms will do better financially separately than together. He says the other shareholders leaving Scott & Hulse are Joseph Hood, Jeffrey Alley, Gary Norton, Eric Brittain and J.L. Jay. Windle declines to identify clients who may move to the new firm, but he says the group represents insurance companies and businesses. After the spinoff, Scott & Hulse will have 28 lawyers in El Paso, San Antonio and Los Cruces, N.M., Bernard says. Windle says the split is so amicable that the new firm may rent space in the same building as Scott & Hulse. In fact, Windle says, “This is the most cordial, friendliest separation of lawyers in the history of law firms.” From Boutique to Big Firm Richard Zook, one of the lawyers who represented the one-time Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith in a complicated court battle for money she claimed her late oilman husband wanted her to have, has left a small litigation boutique in Houston to join Thompson & Knight in Houston. Zook says he was recruited to Thompson & Knight by a longtime friend, Ricky Raven, who is the trial practice group leader for Thompson & Knight’s Houston office. Zook, who joined the firm recently known as Cunningham, Welsh, Darlow & Zook in 1999, moved over to Thompson & Knight in late June. Zook says he left his old firm, now known as Cunningham Darlow, on amicable terms, but is happy to be working at a large firm because of its resources. “I didn’t think I would go back to a large law firm, but this firm had so many things that were great for me,” Zook says. “For my cases, it’s just wonderful to have more support and more lawyers.” Zook says he brought a number of pieces of commercial litigation to his new firm, including the high-profile Miguel Franco, M.C., et al. v. West Houston, G.P., which is pending before 61st District Judge John Donovan in Houston. In that suit, Zook represents a group of physicians who sued Houston-based Memorial Hermann Hospital System and others, bringing tortious interference and antitrust claims in connection with the closing of the Houston Town and Country Hospital, a small hospital in which they had invested. Interestingly, Houston lawyer Rusty Hardin, of Rusty Hardin & Associates, who represented Anna Nicole Smith’s step-son, Pierce Marshall, in the probate court fight over the estate of Howard Marshall II, is also involved in hospital litigation. Hardin is one of the lawyers representing the hospital. Smith and Pierce Marshall are both now deceased. Ron Welsh, who formerly practiced with Zook at Cunningham, Welsh, also left the firm recently to join another former alumni of the firm, John Chapoton Jr., at Houston-based Welsh & Chapoton. “We hated to lose those guys, but they wanted to go their way,” says Tom A. Cunningham, a partner in Cunningham Darlow. “We all parted as friends.” Welsh did not, before presstime on July 26, return two telephone messages left at his office.

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