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Over the course of 17 years, Mark Floyd had settled into a comfortable routine. He started nearly every morning at 5 a.m. by driving from his home in a Cleveland neighborhood to the downtown Key Center building. There the 41-year-old labor and employment lawyer worked out at the building’s gym until it was time to hit the showers and head for the forty-ninth floor, to his office at Squire, Sanders & Dempsey. Floyd still works in the same building, but this year he gets off the elevator ten floors sooner, at his new firm, Thompson Hine & Flory. While the rest of Floyd’s early-morning ritual has remained virtually the same, little else in his worklife has. On its face, the move was risky. Floyd’s opening at Thompson Hine came after 14 partners — 18 percent of the total — left to start a new firm. The entire labor and employment group in Cleveland had walked, and with it went projects for Ford Motor Credit Company, Kmart Corporation, and Alcoa Inc. Floyd, who was recruited quickly to rebuild the practice from the firm’s headquarters, would have to start almost from scratch. “I think he underestimated the difficulty of the situation he was walking into,” says his former partner David Millstone, the head of labor and employment at Squire, Sanders. Well, not exactly, says Floyd. The buoyant and energetic lawyer was basically happy at his old firm, working on labor and employment matters for local or national clients and heading the immigration group at the firm, but something was missing: He wanted to head up Squire’s labor and employment practice group. Taking the helm was important to Floyd. It was in his blood: His father, who was an Army officer, “ran the household like the military.” Rather than rebel, Floyd opted to push himself to do better — from bench-pressing at the gym, a habit he developed to shed 50 pounds and end a childhood weight problem, to venturing far from his El Paso home to study classical voice and political science at Stanford University, to landing a job at a powerful firm after graduating from Columbia University Law School. Although Squire lawyers considered him to be a hardworking, well-respected colleague, there were plenty of potential leaders of the labor and employment practice. (At age 54, Millstone isn’t close to leaving that post.) According to Squire’s managing partner, R. Thomas Stanton, Floyd had been handling mostly institutional work at Squire, and not bringing in new clients. “Thompson Hine’s loss of the labor group came at a time when Mark was in search of more practice opportunities,” including heading up a practice group, Stanton says. Floyd says he had many opportunities, but he told headhunters who cold-called him that he would only consider leaving his firm if they could offer him the chance of a lifetime. “They usually stumbled over that,” says Floyd. He found his big break on his own, in the locker room, of all places. One morning in late January, Floyd had just finished his workout when he rubbed elbows with a lawyer from local rival Thompson Hine. The lawyer, Keith Ashmus, asked if he had heard the news. Ashmus and 13 other Thompson Hine partners were defecting to start their own firm. The news shocked Floyd. Such a large exodus was practically unheard of in the normally cozy collegiality of the Cleveland legal market. It also stirred his curiosity. He called his friend James Robenalt at Thompson Hine. Floyd got right to the point. “Is your firm falling apart?” he asked. Good question. The defections left a gaping hole in Thompson Hine. Of the 14 partners who were departing to form Frantz Ward, name partner Michael Frantz sat on Thompson Hine’s executive committee, Daniel Ward headed the firm’s labor and employment group, Barbara Arison ran the product liability group, and Ashmus was chairman of a firmwide committee that oversaw four practice groups. Although many Thompson Hine partners insist that the departures were amicable, it was a blow that caught the firm by surprise. Partner Donald Messinger says that the executive committee got the news at one of its regular meetings in January in Columbus. The partners were taking their seats with coffee and pastries when the conference room phone rang. It was Frantz, who asked to be put on speakerphone. That’s how he told his colleagues that nearly one of every five partners in the Cleveland office was leaving. One by one, he named the partners who were joining him. Silence filled the room. Messinger recalls that no one could think of an appropriate response: “We said, ‘Can we call you back in 20 minutes?’” Thompson Hine’s management team quickly took stock of the situation. By the time Mark Floyd picked up his phone a few days later to find out what had happened, an eager band of Columbus and Cincinnati partners had already arrived at headquarters to take care of remaining labor and employment work. Partner William Moul in Columbus took over Ward’s job as group practice leader. The departures won’t seriously damage the firm’s bottom line, says Messinger. “After the dust settled, we reviewed our operating budget and capital expenditure budget for this year in significant detail,” he says. “This won’t have an adverse financial impact on us,” because the net revenue attributed to the lawyers who left is about equal to what they took home. Even Frantz, whose firm has since more than doubled in size, says with faint praise that Thompson Hine is “still viable.” Overall, revenue at Thompson Hine is up about 4 percent from last year, says Messinger. As Jim Robenalt assured Floyd, there was nothing systemically wrong at Thompson Hine that caused the split — several members of that group had always wanted to start their own firm. “[Robenalt] asked me if I’d thought about coming down,” says Floyd. Would one firm’s loss be the opportunity that Floyd had waited for — to head a labor and employment practice in Cleveland? He was curious, but cautious. After a lifetime at Squire Sanders, the father of two young children worried that he might sacrifice his career — and abandon his friends and partners — only to take on a dwindling practice. So he began his due diligence. It helped that over the years Floyd had secured a network of friends and contacts at Thompson Hine as well as at several other Cleveland firms. Just knowing and liking the partners at Thompson Hine was not enough for Floyd. He wanted to make sure that the firm’s bottom line wasn’t jeopardized because of the Frantz defection, and most of all, he wanted to be sure he’d have plenty of work to do. Though some of Floyd’s clients have since followed him to the firm, he could not offer a big book of business. “So I wanted to be sure that some of Thompson Hine’s institutional clients stayed,” he says. Within two weeks after Floyd began talking with members of the management committee, Messinger and Thompson Hine managing partner David Hooker typed up a list of 15 clients that Floyd could tap for work. The firm declines to name prospective clients, but its institutional clients include Mead Corporation and KeyCorp. Floyd was sold. But now he had to tell his managing partner that he was going to the competition. After gathering his courage, he walked into Stanton’s office. After making it clear to Stanton that he intended to leave, the conversation ended abruptly. “I said, ‘If you want to go, that makes sense,’” Stanton recalls. And while Stanton says that he would have been “delighted” if Floyd had stayed at Squire, he says that Thompson Hine was probably a better fit. Floyd thought it best to leave Squire Sanders that same day. He packed up his belongings and sent them down the elevator. Thompson Hine & Flory was ready for him. Mark Floyd isn’t the first partner who started out loyal to his firm, only to leave midcareer to join another. Many lawyers who until very recently clung to tradition — one firm for life — are surprising themselves by taking the plunge. There’s Reginald Steer, an intellectual property and antitrust litigator in San Francisco who bailed out of a troubled big firm for the collegial atmosphere of a new branch office of a much smaller boutique. And John Cogan, Jr., a Houston-based international corporate lawyer who got the itch to leave his firm, but jumped too quickly into what he thought he was looking for. It took another lateral move two years later before Cogan really found it. Floyd, Steer, and Cogan were chosen as subjects from a stack of new-partner announcements that poured into The American Lawyer in January, typically a peak lateral month because lawyers have just reaped the benefits of the ties that bind — end-of-year payouts. The announcements continue to choke our fax machine, but we chose these three because they seemed to speak for the new generation of mobile partners — those who weren’t born to job-hop, but who eventually did because the circumstances were compelling. There’s usually no one reason partners move: to take on a leadership role, better serve clients, develop a niche for a new firm, or shed the animosities or bureaucracy of an old one. But — no surprise — money plays a big role. Although each of our profiled subjects says that compensation was far from their most important concern, Cogan and Floyd say that they now make more money. Cogan’s old firm, Baker & McKenzie, had average profits per partner last year of $485,000, while the partners at his new firm, King & Spalding, averaged $770,000 last year. Floyd says that his compensation this year at Thompson Hine will be higher than at his old firm, Squire, Sanders & Dempsey, even though on average Squire’s $435,000 is much stronger than Thompson Hine’s $290,000. Steer is uncertain whether he will make more after leaving Am Law 100 firm Pillsbury Madison & Sutro for what is now Skjerven Morrill MacPherson, which is not on The Am Law 200. The firm’s managing partner, Edward Anderson, says that Skjerven’s profits per partner last year were higher than at Pillsbury, where the partners averaged $505,000. Mergers by the dozens, yawning gaps in profits among firms, a grow-or-die zeal for change — all of it adds up to a much more dynamic and fluid lateral market. Who can ignore it? Mark Floyd couldn’t. Neither could Reg Steer or John Cogan. At a certain point in the past year, each of them looked up from their desks and picked up the phone to test the lateral waters. Then they dove in. You might call it a midlife crisis,” says Reg Steer one sunny afternoon in San Francisco. Until February, the 55-year-old litigator had been slowly burning out. After almost three decades at San Francisco’s Pillsbury Madison, Steer started looking at other large firms in the Bay Area in 1998, thinking that he might be happier somewhere else. He even got some enticing offers, he says. It wasn’t until last February that Steer made his move. He jumped to the new San Francisco office of Skjerven Morrill MacPherson, a thriving boutique based in San Jose. Steer, a mild-mannered man with small, bright eyes and animated features, smiles thoughtfully in his office, 28 floors above San Francisco’s Embarcadero district. “Now my wife says she’s never seen me so relaxed and happy,” he says. It wasn’t that Steer was bored, overworked, or underpaid. As a senior partner, he worked on complex commercial litigation for big clients, among others Chevron U.S.A. Inc., bookstore giant Borders Group, Inc., and J.C. Penney Company, Inc. The busy pace satisfied his workaholic personality, and he brought home a paycheck in the high six figures. Friendly and accessible, Steer is popular with partners and associates alike. He had been co-chair of the IP group at the firm, and an executive committee member for 1997 and 1998. Most of his best friends are Pillsbury partners or former Pillsbury partners. He still maintains close ties to people there, including firm chair Mary Cranston, who lives around the block from him. But during Steer’s management stint, Pillsbury’s problems were impossible to ignore. In 1997 profits at other Bay Area firms shot up; at Pillsbury, they plummeted. A multimillion-dollar age discrimination suit brought by female staffers dented the firm’s bottom line. Dozens of his colleagues left the firm. Steer was left sick of building consensus, sick of bureaucratic red tape, and sick of mergers. In short, sick of bigness. He missed the collegial culture of the old days, which began to seriously disintegrate after the firm merged with Los Angeles’s Lillick & McHose in 1991 and Washington, D.C.’s Cushman Darby & Cushman five years later. He feared that the large New York merger Cranston touted as part of Pillsbury’s five-year strategic plan would grow the 490-lawyer firm to an unbearable size. (And, unbearable or not, the newly merged Pillsbury Winthrop, announced seven months after Steer left, would create a sprawling 860-lawyer firm.) It bothered him that “in a law firm of 500-plus, everything must be done by committee,” says Steer. The firm also never built consensus on how its compensation should be structured, says Steer: “I didn’t know what the future held” for the firm. One day in December 1998, at the tail end of his management stint, Steer’s former partner and good friend Ed Anderson, who had become the managing partner at Skjerven, invited Steer to lunch at the City Club. Anderson suspected that Steer wanted to leave Pillsbury — the two friends met periodically over the years, and lately Anderson noticed that Steer seemed uncharacteristically blue. After the coffee was served, Anderson popped the question. “I told him we were planning to do a San Francisco office,” he recalls. “If he was happy at Pillsbury, then by all means he should stay, but if he was thinking of leaving, he should start our office for us.” Steer was intrigued. He knew from friends that Skjerven was a hot IP litigation firm. But could he leave a brand-name firm for one that most lawyers couldn’t spell or pronounce? (It’s pronounced “Sherven.”) Steer was also uncertain if he would match his Pillsbury paycheck. From that December 1998 lunch meeting, another year would pass before Steer made a decision, mostly because when a Pillsbury client asked him to take on a high-stakes antitrust case that would likely go to court, he couldn’t refuse. “I love trying cases,” he says, “and this was one that seemed challenging. I put the decision on the back burner.” In the fall of 1999, a few other Pillsbury partners began eyeing the 100-lawyer Skjerven. David Hopmann, also a good friend of Ed Anderson’s, was the first of five lawyers from the corporate group at Pillsbury to go to Skjerven. So many eventually made the same move, in fact, that it’s known as Pillsbury West. That put Steer back into a lateral frame of mind. “Watching someone leave a firm is like watching someone jump off a high cliff. If that person is still alive, you think, ‘I can do that,’” he says. The concept of a small firm filled with friends — most of whom had even been to his wedding 17 years ago — was too good to pass up. Even though by 1998, revenue and profits at Pillsbury started to rebound, Steer was ready to leave his cliff dwelling. After several more conversations with Hopmann, Anderson, and others, Steer left Pillsbury late last year. At the time, Steer thought he would be walking away from a huge year 2000 bonus — based on a possible multimillion-dollar contingency fee from a verdict he won earlier in the year. As it turned out, the punitive damages in that case were lost on appeal in March, months after Steer had resigned from the firm. His windfall, like his former partnership, proved ephemeral. Now at Skjerven, Steer says, “we have real partner meetings to discuss issues. And all are given equal say.” Unlike his last years at Pillsbury, Steer now has a “sense of ownership. … There’s a relationship between one’s efforts and fruits.” How did John Cogan become a serial defector? The international corporate energy lawyer has had three different jobs in the past three-and-a-half years. Cogan planned to stay at Houston’s Baker Botts for his entire career, and almost did. But after 28 years at the firm, Cogan joined Baker & McKenzie in 1997 to start that firm’s Houston office. Just two years later, he left for the relatively new Houston office of a much different sort of firm, Atlanta’s King & Spalding, a firm he now calls “home sweet home.” Over lunch, the reserved 56-year-old, dressed in a dark suit and monogrammed cuffs, seems as surprised as anyone to be the subject of a story about job-hopping partners. His calm disposition doesn’t fit the stereotype of a swinging opportunist. When he’s not dealmaking in foreign countries, his idea of a good time, he says, is a quiet meal at an elegant restaurant a short drive from the hustle of Houston’s financial district where he works. For enjoyment, he says, he mows his lawn. Cogan doesn’t even eat like a big-name Texas lawyer — he’s lost 20 pounds on a strict, low-carb “Sugar Busters” diet. But like many law firm partners these days, Cogan took a hard look at what his firm had to offer and decided he wanted more. Twice. “I guess it’s a sign of the times,” he says, sipping his chamomile tea. After graduating from the University of Texas School of Law in 1968, Cogan had looked for a firm with a substantial international practice. Growing up in the 1950s in New Jersey, Cogan met engineers from around the world whom his father, an Exxon Corporation executive, would bring home for dinner. Those colorful conversations inspired young Cogan to get involved in international business. After law school, he joined Baker Botts, which at the time was the only firm in Texas with an international office. Over the years Cogan established a corporate international energy and transactions practice, focusing primarily on Latin America and East Asia. He built a client base brimming with Fortune 500 energy clients and large foreign oil manufacturers. The firm’s traditional culture suited his personality. So when a headhunter called him in the fall of 1996 about starting Baker & McKenzie’s Houston office, he wasn’t interested — much. That night, Cogan and his wife had dinner with Cogan’s former colleague at Baker Botts, A. Duncan Gray, Jr., who, after a few career moves, had landed at the Houston office of Chicago’s Mayer, Brown & Platt. Gray had been trying for years to recruit Cogan to join him at Mayer. “I knew he was an upright lawyer,” says Gray, “and [Mayer] didn’t have expertise in Latin America.” But even while piquing Cogan’s interest, Gray’s eye had started to wander, too — to Baker & McKenzie. That night, Gray confessed to Cogan that he was considering starting Baker’s Houston office. “Well, that’s ironic,” Cogan said, and told him about the headhunter call he’d received just hours earlier. “Neither of us were particularly enthused about doing it on our own,” but the idea of starting something new together — at what was then the largest firm in the world, with 54 offices in 33 countries — was exhilarating. So was the thought of Baker & McKenzie’s compensation structure, which was far more eat-what-you-kill than the traditional, subjective system they were used to. Every lawyer is a separate profit center. More so than at their old firms, there is a strong incentive to bring in new business. “There’s no deadwood at that place,” says Gray. The entrepreneurial challenge enticed them. “We were going to build something,” says Gray. While it was emotionally difficult to leave his old firm, Cogan says, he had no problem bringing some of his clients over from Baker Botts. (He shares some work with both of his former firms.) Cogan and Gray, along with younger partner Kenneth Culotta, immediately set about recruiting lawyers to build up the office, which grew to about 20 lawyers in three years. “I remember my first trip to Budapest for the firm,” says Cogan. “And when I was introduced to a client by a Baker & McKenzie lawyer as his partner, I got a thrill out of that.” But it was not quite a perfect match. Although the partners had done their homework, the move was a culture shock. Having so many offices and a decentralized economic structure was restrictive to Cogan, who says he had less control over which foreign lawyers he could tap on each of his deals. The partners missed the collegiality of their old firms. Then came a phone call that changed Cogan’s life — again. It was King & Spalding’s Randolph Coley, a corporate partner in Houston who had moved from the Atlanta office. Litigators from King & Spalding had opened the Houston office in 1995 to represent one of the firm’s biggest clients, Texaco Inc., in litigation. In 1997 Coley went to Houston, charged with building up the corporate practice. It was a friend of Culotta’s who made the connection. Would Cogan and his partners want to join the Houston satellite office of the firm? This time, Cogan and his partners looked closely at the cultural fit: The compensation structure was mostly lockstep, and the attitude collegial. “They’re a southern firm, after all,” says Cogan. In January they announced their move. While Baker & McKenzie tops the charts by number of international offices, King & Spalding doesn’t have any. But it does have plenty of transnational clients, such as The Coca-Cola Company and United Parcel Service, Inc. Now Cogan has the flexibility he missed at Baker & McKenzie — he can choose any lawyers he wants to work on his clients’ deals, and he says he often chooses lawyers from his old firm, Baker & McKenzie. Cogan brought his clients — the same ones that followed him to Baker & McKenzie — to his new firm. “They’re very patient with me,” he says. He doesn’t plan to move them again. “No,” he says. “This is home.” A Guide to Job-Hopping 1. Watch for turmoil. When two firms merge, opportunities abound. Take Rogers & Wells. When the New York firm was on its own, it had a tough time attracting banking and reinsurance partners. Its merger with London’s Clifford Chance changed everything. Now part of the world’s largest firm, the New York office is awash in lateral possibilities, says regional managing partner Laurence Cranch. 2. Keep networking. Even if your current slot seems secure, you never know when you’ll want contacts at competing firms. When Mark Floyd was thinking of leaving Squire Sanders for Thompson Hine, he didn’t start the conversation at square one; for years he had been visible to Thompson’s leaders, without any particular agenda in mind. Eventually his preparation helped. 3. Do your homework. Don’t take recruiters’ word for it on matters of culture and “fit.” Ask what it’s like to be in a branch office for your prospective new firm. Look at the new firm’s revenue and profit trends. Feel out clients. And from the outset, have an escape strategy in case the move turns into a disaster. 4. Don’t slam the door on the way out. Reread your partnership agreement carefully to make sure you are doing things in the right order — such as telling your clients you’ve left after you’ve told your managing partner. Remember: Former partners refer clients, provide new lateral connections, and give summer jobs to each other’s kids!

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