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In the eight years since Patrick Stanton and a band of Shanley & Fisher defectors started a labor and employment defense boutique in Morristown, N.J., they have been seduced with merger overtures by national firms seeking a New Jersey foothold in a hot practice area. Stanton, Hughes, Diana, Mariani & Margello resisted because there were enough corporate clients willing to steer labor and employment work its way rather than take advantage of the one-stop shopping offered by large firms. But the trend is toward convergence: Corporate counsel are winnowing down their referral lists to full-service firms, and Stanton Hughes could hold out no longer. “We have a number of clients who, while they continue to use us, make it clear they would like us to have the ability to represent them in more than one locale,” he says. So it was announced last month that, as of Jan. 1, the nine-lawyer firm will become the Northeast regional office of the nation’s third-largest labor and employment firm, Atlanta’s Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, with 190 lawyers in 17 cities. Stanton says he received offers from firms that offer a range of corporate services but decided on one that focuses solely on labor and employment. “We did not want to go with a general practice firm,” Stanton says. “We liked the idea of being in a focused practice. That was something we put a premium on.” That’s also the mission of Ogletree Deakins. “Some companies are whittling down their list of firms to large jack-of-all-trades firms,” says managing shareholder L. Gray Geddie Jr. “What we are seeing in our practice is others are whittling down the number of labor and employment firms. We’ve been very successful in appealing to a number of national-type companies doing that.” The nation’s largest labor and employment defense practice is Littler Mendelson of San Francisco, with 380 lawyers, followed by Jackson Lewis of White Plains, N.Y., with 360 lawyers. A law-firm consultant says Stanton Hughes is missing out on cross-selling opportunities. “We disagree with the strategy they’re taking,” says Stuart Michaels, a principal of Topaz Attorney Search in Livingston, N.J. “We believe the best opportunity is to cross-market all the services your firm can offer.” “As the general counsels shorten their approved lists, they’re looking for firms that can handle not only labor and employment matters but all matters — they’re looking to have one-stop shopping,” says Michaels. While Stanton is mindful of the convergence trend, he says merging with a large firm would mean giving up many smaller companies that come through referrals. “If you are a small firm or a specialty firm and you send work to the labor and employment lawyers at a general practice firm, you run the risk of that client being cross-sold and moving all their work to that firm,” Stanton says. “We’d like to continue having that mix. We see doing more Fortune 500 work than in the past, but at the same time we expect to hold on to the little clients. We think that business model works,” he says. Another reason he picked Ogletree Deakins is that it promised a high level of autonomy. Stanton will be the managing partner of the new office, and decisions on hiring, hours of operation and dress codes will continue to be made locally, he says. OGLETREE EXPANDING NATIONALLY Ogletree Deakins has opened offices in Los Angeles and Austin, Texas, this year and is preparing to open a location in Miami, says Geddie. Founded in 1977, the firm also has locations in Greenville, Charleston and Columbia, S.C.; Birmingham, Ala.; Chicago; Dallas; Houston; San Antonio; Indianapolis; Nashville, Tenn.; Raleigh, N.C.; Washington, D.C.; and St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Ogletree Deakins is the nation’s 223rd-largest law firm, according to rankings by the National Law Journal. Besides its primary division providing defense in employment litigation, Ogletree Deakins has groups specializing in collective bargaining and arbitration, union elections, ERISA, immigration law and Occupational Safety and Health Administration compliance, Geddie says. Stanton Hughes has a small New York office, though no lawyers are based there. Geddie says the firm was attractive in that most of its attorneys are admitted in New York as well as New Jersey. Stanton Hughes’ clients include ADP Inc., Curtiss-Wright Corp., Dollar Rent-a-Car, The Gap, Gannett, General Electric, Hertz Corp., Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp., Pathmark Stores and Reebok. Stanton started his firm in 1995 after leaving Shanley & Fisher with four associates. Later that year, Richard Salsberg joined the firm from Newark’s DeMaria Ellis, now defunct, but Salsberg left in 2000 to join the Teaneck firm now known as DeCotiis, FitzPatrick, Cole & Wisler. In 1997, Stanton snared Richard Mariani from rival employment boutique Apruzzese, McDermott, Mastro & Murphy in Liberty Corner, N.J. Stanton, a former judge advocate general in the U.S. Navy, was labor counsel at Union Camp Corp. and then director of labor and equal opportunity employment at W.R. Grace Corp. before joining Shanley & Fisher in 1986. He is chairman of the New Jersey State Bar Association’s Labor and Employment Law Section.

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