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Littler Mendelson, the nation’s largest labor and employment firm, has scored three lawyers from Powell Goldstein’s Atlanta labor and employment practice. Gavin S. Appleby and Jacqueline E. Kalk, both partners at Powell Goldstein, join as shareholders, and R. Bradley Adams joins as an associate. Appleby said his group could charge lower rates at a labor and employment boutique than at a big firm. He would not disclose his rates but said they’d dropped by $60 an hour without affecting his compensation. Corporate firms are increasingly focused on profit margins, which is “not realistic” in employment law, where rates generally are lower than for other practice areas, said Appleby, who headed Powell Goldstein’s labor and employment practice until June. He had practiced at Powell Goldstein since 1994 except for a stint in-house at Kimberly-Clark, and, before that, at Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker. Appleby said the group’s departure was prompted by “a difference in philosophy on where an employment law practice fits.” He predicted that other labor and employment lawyers would leave big general practice firms for the same reason. “It’s going to happen again,” he said. Powell Goldstein’s managing partner, James J. McAlpin Jr., said the departures resulted from a “basic difference in approach to the business side of practicing law.” Since becoming managing partner almost a year ago, McAlpin said he’s been working to improve the firm’s efficiency and profitability. Appleby’s practice included a substantial amount of employment training, which bills at a lower rate, McAlpin said. “That’s not where we want to place our focus,” he said. “He’s a very good labor lawyer. He will do well at Littler Mendelson,” McAlpin added. “We do have a different view of the business than [McAlpin] does,” said Kalk, adding that Appleby’s practice focuses on training and counseling work while she is the litigator. She acknowledged that some of Appleby’s training work is billed at a lower rate, but it is still useful for business development, which becomes more relevant in a firm made up exclusively of labor and employment lawyers, she said. She also said that compliance counseling has become a high-dollar area in the wake of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. “You can’t downplay the significance of the training,” she said, adding that “we see training and compliance counseling as all part of the same goal.” Appleby said he also made the move because Littler offers him more scope for a practice that has become increasingly national and international. Littler has 28 offices nationwide, concentrated on the West Coast and in the Northeast. Littler’s Atlanta office, launched in 1996, was its first foray into the Southeast. The firm also has an office in Miami, and it opened a Charlotte, N.C., office two years ago. Littler’s managing partner, Wendy L. Tice-Wallner, said the firm, which has more than 400 lawyers, focused on expansion in the 1990s and now wants to acquire lawyers at the top of their game. “We’re looking opportunistically at very talented lawyers from around the country because we have so many places for them to go. They can grow their practices through our footprint,” she said. Tice-Wallner added that Appleby’s group was a “very nice opportunity” for her firm, because it’s a group with a mature practice. The Powell Goldstein lawyers bring Littler’s Atlanta head count to 15 lawyers, including Adams, who telecommutes from Mobile, Ala. Appleby said Littler aims to expand its Atlanta office to 20 lawyers in the near future. The move leaves Powell Goldstein with 14 labor and employment lawyers. The firm’s labor and employment practice is focused primarily in the Southeast but is national in scope, said McAlpin. McAlpin said Powell Goldstein will retain “the most significant relationships” with the group’s clients, including a “substantial portion” of the labor and employment work the group does for Kimberly-Clark. Appleby said the group will continue to do work for Kimberly-Clark as well as “10 or 12 clients of some girth.” He also will be able to take on new clients in the new practice environment, he said.

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