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After a merger that brought 30 lawyers from Hartford to McCarter & English four years ago, the firm said it was following an “Amtrak” strategy: growth as a regional powerhouse along the northeastern seaboard. Four years later and 100 lawyers larger, the firm wants to be a “super regional,” new managing partner Eric Wiechmann says. Wiechmann, who headed the Cummings & Lockwood contingent in Connecticut that merged with McCarter, replaced the retiring Lois Van Dusen on Monday to become the first managing partner from outside Newark since founder Thomas McCarter rented a room over a Broad Street bank 142 years ago. Andrew Berry continues as chairman of the executive committee at the seven-office, 400-lawyer firm, keeping intact a two-headed leadership on big decisions. Berry says he expects to be deeply involved in any firm mergers or office-opening decisions, will serve as the face of the firm in New Jersey and will be the lead contact in relations with government entities. “That’s the way it was with Lois, and I don’t envision any changes,” he says. If McCarter & English were a country, Berry would be chief of state and Wiechmann would be prime minister, though Berry adds that the fundamental governance in the firm is “by consensus.” The firm, meanwhile, is moving on without two longtime partners. John Scally, who started the firm’s bond department, and pharmaceutical litigator John Brenner, recently defected to other large firms. [See related story.] Wiechmann and Berry say McCarter & English has embarked on a strategic plan that envisions growth in health sciences, intellectual property, financial and construction law practices. “We’re also seeking to grow in the larger cities where we have a presence, such as New York, Philadelphia and Boston,” Wiechmann says. The firm also is eager to add a Washington, D.C., office, a necessary component for any firm with McCarter’s goals. That attempt has been under way for two years, Berry says, without giving hints about possible negotiations. “It’s part of our strategic plan, and we’re going to keep working on it until we succeed,” Berry says. A Washington office, besides handling regulatory work, would provide a platform for special counsel Paul Celucci, now in the Boston branch, to take advantage of Washington contacts, Berry says. Celluci was Massachusetts’ governor from 1997 to 2001 and U.S. ambassador to Canada from 2001 to 2006. Toxic-Tort Saturation Point As for practice areas, the firm appears to be interested in segueing from its role as a leader in mass toxic tort defense, a high-volume business that may be turning into a zero-sum game for lawyers. “That work will continue, but the question is whether it is a growth area,” Berry says. “If you were looking macro-economically at toxic tort you would have to take market share away from people rather than participating in a growing market.” By contrast, representing companies in disputes between research-based and generic drug companies under the Hatch-Waxman Act is a booming field, he says. Right now, the firm has 32 such cases. “That’s been a growth area because New Jersey is a place where such litigation, if not centered, is prevalent,” he says. The firm expects growth in the construction law practice, which has 27 lawyers. Robert Rubin and Sarah Biser, two leading construction attorneys at Seyfarth Shaw, joined McCarter’s New York office in August. The firm also expects to increase its work on complex public and private financings. The health of the market for legal services to dealmakers is a subject of some debate at a time of a general credit squeeze. Local M&A lawyers say the deals to which New Jersey lawyers are accustomed – the $5 million to $300 million type – are going forward. In mid-September, McCarter’s Princeton office represented Purdy Corp. of Manchester, Conn., in its acquisition, for $200 million, by Timken Co. of Timken, Ohio. Timken is a major supplier of power transmission equipment to the aerospace industry, and Purdy makes and services aircraft precision instruments.

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