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A new women-owned firm in Dallas, Spencer Crain Cubbage Healy & McNamara, formed by five veteran Dallas lawyers from four firms, opened its doors May 1. The five lawyers � all were partners or shareholders in big firms in Dallas before their new venture � do litigation, labor and employment law, business immigration work and dispute resolution. The founding shareholders are Jennifer Jackson Spencer, a litigator who left Fulbright & Jaworski; Gayla Crain, a management-side labor and employment lawyer from Epstein Becker Green Wickliff & Hall; Brenda Cubbage, a litigator from Greenberg Traurig; Elise Healy, a business immigration lawyer from Epstein Becker; and Larry McNamara, a labor and employment lawyer from Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell. All five left their former firms on April 30 to form Spencer Crain on May 1. Four others from Epstein Becker, which announced in February it would close its Dallas office, have also joined the new firm. They are shareholder Mark Downey and associates Fred Gaona, Merrill Walls and Megan Raesner. Spencer, the lawyer whose dreams led to the firm, says, “[W]e envision about 30 lawyers in two to three years.” She says the time is right to launch a majority-women-owned firm in Dallas. “It just seems like a lot of the companies . . . had committed to diversifying their legal firms,” she says. The seed that led directly to the new firm was Spencer’s 45th birthday. Spencer says she had been thinking for a few months about leaving Fulbright to form her own firm in Dallas, but she didn’t make a solid decision to do it until Feb. 25. “It was my 45th birthday, and I have 20 years left to practice, and what better way to hook up with lawyers that I like and have immense respect for and create something that I thought was woman-owned and [with] the ability to come up with some flexible billing arrangements,” Spencer says. Spencer says she knew her first step was recruiting some women lawyers in Dallas with litigation specialties. But because “there are really not that many senior female litigators . . . still practicing after a certain age, the group is automatically narrowed,” she says. Even before that fateful birthday, Spencer says she started talking informally months ago with Cubbage about her plan to form a women- owned firm. Spencer says Cubbage has handled a number of mediations she’s been involved in; they became friends, because they both serve on the board of the Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas. At first, Cubbage says she was only “mildly interested” in Spencer’s plan. But after a couple more months of chats with Spencer about the prospective firm, Cubbage says she became more interested, and then when McNamara introduced Spencer to Crain and Healy in late February, the plan started to gel. “The primary reason it’s going to be successful is the five people who are founding it, and the fact all of us are accomplished in what we do,” Cubbage says. Spencer says that around the same time she was talking to Cubbage, she also called McNamara, a longtime friend and former co-worker at the defunct Johnson & Wortley of Dallas and then at Locke Liddell & Sapp in Dallas. At first, Spencer says, she wasn’t initially trying to recruit McNamara, because she was seeking veteran women lawyers. But McNamara introduced her to Crain and Healy, Spencer and McNamara continued talking, and she realized what a good fit he was. Crain and Healy were on the job hunt, because Epstein Becker announced in February it would close its Dallas office and consolidate Texas operations in Houston. [ See "Buh-Bye, Big D," Texas Lawyer , Feb. 18, 2008, page 3.] “The timing was just perfect,” Crain says. Healy says that before she and Crain decided to join Spencer Crain, she looked separately and with Crain at 18 to 23 firms in Dallas, including Texas firms, national firms with Dallas offices and national firms that want to open a Dallas office. Neither of the lawyers wanted to transfer to Epstein Becker’s Houston office. “Then I met Jennifer Spencer and looked at her research and her proposal, and it made a great deal of sense. Where I am in my career, I’m close to 20 years in, and I probably won’t have this opportunity again,” Healy says. Healy says the chance to set up a firm and set the rules is “pretty heady stuff, very attractive to me.” Spencer says it took only about three weeks after McNamara introduced her to Crain and Healy, until mid-March, for all five of the partners to commit to forming the new firm. “For all of us, it’s a big change of pace, because we are for the most part big-firm people,” McNamara says. McNamara, who calls himself the “token” male partner, says he decided he was interested in a change and likes the opportunity to pick the lawyers with whom he will practice. The Spencer Crain business plan calls for the partners to bill out at rates lower than at their former firms, although those fees aren’t set in stone yet, and to offer alternative billing arrangements to their clients, including blended rates, project fees, fixed fees and flexible fees for smaller clients, Spencer says. “This is a great business model in terms of . . . my client base, more regionally based,” Cubbage says. “It seems like many businesses are finding the larger firms are not cost-effective for their needs,” Spencer says. The lawyers bring a number of clients with them but can’t identify many yet, since the firm just opened May 1. However, Spencer says she will continue to do work for Eli Lilly and Co., of Indianapolis, Ind. McNamara says his labor and employment clients include Greyhound Lines Inc. of Dallas and Temple-Inland of Austin. Cubbage says her clients include Hexter-Fair Title Co., Kennington Capital and Kennington Properties, all of Dallas. Celeste Flippen, a senior managing counsel at J.C. Penney Corp. Inc., of Plano, writes in a statement that she looks forward to continuing to work with Crain on important human resources litigation matters. Flippen writes, “We appreciate her dogged determination, candor and practical advice, as well as her willingness to partner with us to achieve our desired results. The department is delighted to learn that Gayla has co-founded a women-owned firm. Our department is committed to diversity and expects its outside counsel to be as well.”

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