Road arrow sign outside the Best Western Route 66 Rail Haven in Springfield, Missouri, on May 18, 2014. Photo Credit: mrcmos/Shutterstock

On its website, Lathrop Gage boasts that it “is considered the oldest continuously operating law firm west of the Mississippi River.”

So when the firm closed its office last month in Springfield, Missouri, following the departure of 11 lawyers for Am Law 200 rival Kutak Rock, the news raised a rather important question. Was Lathrop Gage, now under new management and having expanded in Boston and Los Angeles in recent years, forsaking its Midwestern-ness in a bid to join the coastal (legal) elite?

Cameron Garrison, who earlier this year succeeded Mark Bluhm as Lathrop Gage’s current managing partner, laughed at the suggestion.

Cameron Garrison.

“We are Midwest-born firm,” said Garrison, who works out of Lathrop Gage’s headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri. ”We will always be committed to being a premier firm in that region, but the growth is going to be focused on clients and practice areas, rather than specific geographical areas.”

At the end of July, Omaha-based Kutak Rock increased its head count to 530 after hiring a team of Lathrop Gage lawyers, including six partners, in Springfield.

“Kutak Rock has particular strengths in certain areas of practice, including corporate and municipal finance expertise, which we have never really been able to offer our clients in the past,” said a statement from Randell Wallace, a Lathrop Gage partner leading the team leaving the firm. ”Kutak Rock is a major player among law firms in the Midwest and nationally, and its broad range of expertise will provide a great benefit to our clients who we believe will appreciate Kutak Rock’s commitment to cost-effective client service. This move presents new opportunities for us and our clients and we know it is the right choice.”

Kutak Rock, which ushered its own new leadership last September when longtime chairman David Jacobson stepped down to make way for Jay Selanders, the former managing partner of the firm’s Kansas City office, saw its gross revenue tick up slightly in 2017, to nearly $232 million. (Jacobson died in July at 70 after battling health problems for a decade.)

For its part, Lathrop Gage, which had 233 lawyers as of the most recent Am Law Second Hundred survey, saw gross revenue dip 10.2 percent last year, to $131.5 million. The firm has been busy adding and shedding lawyers in recent months. According to ALM Legal Intelligence, 94 lawyers have left Lathrop Gage since January 2017, including 19 partners who have departed since the beginning of this year, a number that includes those that just joined Kutak Rock. Lathrop Gage has also recruited 40 new lawyers since the start of 2017, according to ALI.

In October 2017, Lathrop Gage hired former Proskauer Rose partner Nancy Sher Cohen to lead the firm’s Los Angeles office and its policyholder and insurance coverage practice. Cohen took on the task of repopulating that office after it was left virtually dormant by the exit of six lawyers to Raines Feldman, a 45-lawyer Southern California firm.

Earlier this year, Lathrop Gage further bolstered its Los Angeles base by bolting on a four-lawyer boutique led by litigation partner David Scheidemantle, who had previously worked at Proskauer with Cohen, and recruiting former Latham & Watkins of counsel Alexandra Roje as a partner for its insurance litigation group. Lathrop Gage also launched a government relations and lobbying subsidiary late last year called Lathrop Gage Consulting, which in late 2017 absorbed Jefferson City, Missouri-based Gallagher Consultants.

Last year Lathrop Gage saw a six-lawyer health care team in Kansas City and St. Louis decamp for regional rival Spencer Fane, while the former managing partner of its Chicago office, Susan Charles, took a team of lawyers to Troutman Sanders. Earlier this month, Stinson Leonard Street hired Sherman Botts, co-chair of Lathrop Gage’s construction and design department, as a partner in Kansas City.

Michael Best & Friedrich, a Milwaukee-based Am Law 200 firm that just hired a new COO, also raided Lathrop Gage in March for a four-partner intellectual property team in Denver. Lathrop Gage’s office in nearby Boulder, Colorado, which it picked up in late 2012 after acquiring a local IP boutique, also watched three partners leave earlier this year to start a new local office for Chicago-based IP firm Leydig, Voit & Mayer.

Lathrop Gage’s now shuttered Springfield office saw IP partner Joseph Johnson, a longtime member of the local business community, depart in January to become general counsel for International Dehydrated Foods Inc. Johnson had worked at Lathrop Gage for nearly 20 years. Other former Lathrop Gage partners that have left the firm this year for in-house roles include Julie Gabel in Chicago and Brian Mack and Mark Webster in Overland Park, Kansas. (Lathrop Gage promoted Mack and Webster to partner in 2017.)

Despite the departures, Garrison is focused on leading Lathrop Gage as it reshuffles its operations. The firm has moved to restock its Chicago office with several new hires over the past year, while also making of counsel additions in Boston, Kansas City and St. Louis.

Garrison said his firm’s focus on “innovative service” to clients is “not for all.” To the lawyers who have left, he simply said: “We wish them well.”