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New York’s Weil, Gotshal & Manges has acquired the Boston-based private equity practice that serves as regular outside counsel to leading leveraged buyout firm Thomas H. Lee Partners. Charles Robins and James Westra, the current heads of the private equity practice at Boston’s Hutchins, Wheeler & Dittmar, joined Weil Gotshal’s newly established Boston office, effective Sept. 1, with Westra serving as managing partner of that office. Hutchins Wheeler partners Steven M. Peck, Marilyn French, David P. Kreisler, Joseph H. Newberg and James L. Messenger also joined Weil Gotshal as partners, while Andrew Troop will become a counsel. Six associates came aboard with Weil Gotshal, as well. Boston-based Thomas H. Lee is the group’s largest client and one of the country’s top leveraged buyout firms, along with such firms as Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., the Carlyle Group and the Blackstone Group. With more than $6 billion under management, Thomas H. Lee is most well-known for its 1992 acquisition of Snapple Beverage Co. for around $140 million, which culminated in the company’s sale to Quaker Oats Co. for $1.7 billion. More recently, Thomas H. Lee led a consortium that was one of the leading bidders to acquire Burger King from U.K.-based beverage company Diageo PLC, which last month agreed to sell the fast-food chain to a competing consortium for $2.26 billion. In a statement, chairman Thomas Lee offered his blessing to the Weil Gotshal move, calling it “an excellent result.” “From my perspective,” Lee said, “our firm has had a long relationship with Charles Robins and Jim Westra and their lawyers who assisted us, but the addition of the Weil, Gotshal & Manges platform will provide global reach, breadth of sophistication and depth of lawyers needed in the current market.” Robins and Westra’s other clients include Berkshire Partners and Summit Partners. Many firms have been looking to expand in the private equity arena of late, as the level of major private equity transactions is somewhat more resistant to the current economic downturn than that of public corporations. In July, Los Angeles-based O’Melveny & Myers acquired 88-lawyer New York private equity boutique O’Sullivan. The addition of the Hutchins Wheeler group will substantially boost Weil Gotshal’s private equity practice, which the firm said counts over 100 affiliated lawyers. Existing clients include Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst, another major leveraged buyout player. The departures, which represent about 16 percent of Hutchins Wheeler’s 105 lawyers, may signal the imminent dissolution of the 160-year-old Boston firm. The firm told the Boston Globe in July it was in merger talks with the much-larger Nixon Peabody, which counts 530 lawyers nationwide. Hutchins Wheeler managing stockholder Mary Ellen O’Mara did not return calls seeking comment.

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