Four partners from Womble Carlyle and six partners from K&L Gates are joining forces to form Morningstar,
according to the Triangle Business Journal in Raleigh
, which first reported news of the spin-off on Friday. Morningstar will be based in Morrisville, North Carolina, which is sandwiched between Chapel Hill, Durham, and Raleigh.
Kenneth Carroll, a Morningstar cofounder and the former managing partner of Womble Carlyle’s Research Triangle office, tells The Am Law Daily that the discussions about creating the firm began some four months ago as a series of separate conversations between different partners who eventually decided to do something collectively.
The Morningstar name, Carroll says, was chosen to symbolize what he calls “the dawn of a new day in legal services.” The new firm, which has taken office space down the road from K&L Gates’s Research Triangle hub, has about four associates to go along with the 10 founding partners, Carroll adds.
As with many regional firms, the idea to form Morningstar grew out of a desire to meet the demands of clients seeking streamlined or reduced billing rates. Large firms like K&L Gates and Womble Carlyle often raise hourly rates to absorb the massive overhead that goes along with their expansive operations—something that Carroll says had become harder to justify to clients seeking more affordable legal services.
Carroll believes that Morningstar’s smaller size will allow the firm to offer clients—predominantly in the chemical, life sciences, manufacturing, and pharmaceutical industries—more flexible pricing options for their legal bills, whether through reduced hourly rates, flat fees, or other alternative billing arrangements.
“I think at many big firms these days there is a bit of an everyman for himself mentality, where individual financial statistics become all important,” says Carroll, who spent 27 years at Womble Carlyle and has nothing but praise for his former firm. “We wanted to practice in an environment where we invest in our colleagues as well as ourselves, and I think that’s becoming increasingly difficult to do in big law.”
Joining Carroll at Morningstar are corporate partners Jennifer Collins, Gene Jones Jr., and W.H. “Kip” Johnson III, all of whom were Womble Carlyle lifers. K&L Gates real estate partners Jason Barron, William Brian Jr., Patrick Byker, Mack Paul, and Stephanie Powell, and corporate partner Grayson Hale are also now part of Morningstar. Several of the new firm’s partners have additional litigation and public policy expertise.
Womble Carlyle’s Johnny Loper, the managing partner of the firm’s Raleigh office, praised his former colleagues, who left on good terms to launch Morningstar. Loper also
told The News & Observer in Raleigh
that he anticipates referring some work to the start-up firm.
“These four [partners] are tremendous attorneys and good friends—and will remain so,” Loper said in a statement provided by a spokesman for Winston-Salem, North Carolina-based Womble Carlyle, which has also
recently expanded its presence elsewhere in the Carolinas
. “We appreciate all of their contributions to Womble Carlyle and wish them nothing but the best in this new endeavor.”
Morningstar is the latest new firm to make its maiden voyage this year with Am Law alums.