It’s been just nine months since LeClairRyan touted the addition of an eight-attorney real estate group from Epstein Becker & Green as the latest in a string of moves aimed at making the Richmond-based firm’s New York office one of its largest. As of Monday, six of those lawyers have left for new firms.
The defectors include Adrian Zuckerman, who led the group out of Epstein and joined LeClair as cohead of its real estate industry group. In January, Zuckerman jumped to Seyfarth Shaw with three others from LeClair, his new firm announced Monday.
Joining Zuckerman in making the move to Seyfarth as partners were Cynthia Mitchell, a shareholder at LeClair, and Linda Bielik, who had been a partner at LeClair, the firm’s term for those with nonequity status. Former LeClair partner Ralph Berman joined Seyfarth as counsel. Seyfarth also announced Monday that is has hired real estate partners Mitchel Hill and Juan Reyes from Troutman Sanders and Reed Smith, respectively. All six officially started between January 22 and January 25.
Of the group that joined LeClair from Epstein last May, partner Andrea Lawrence left last month for New York boutique Barton, and shareholder Scott Drago departed a few weeks ago, a person answering the phone at LeClairRyan confirmed, though it was unclear as of Monday where he has landed.
Among the former Epstein lawyers, only shareholder Barry Cozier, a labor and employment lawyer and former New York state court judge, and associate Lauren Margiano remain at LeClair. Reached Monday, Cozier had no comment on what may have caused the team to splinter. Lawrence would not comment beyond saying that Barton was a better fit for her real estate litigation practice.
In an email, Zuckerman said the move to Seyfarth reunites him with old friends and former colleagues, and that the larger size of both the firm overall and its real estate group specifically helps make it "a perfect fit" for his team’s practice. Seyfarth has more than 800 lawyers compared to LeClair’s less than 350.
LeClair CEO David Freinberg said via email that his firm does not comment on specific personnel matters, but that "Adrian was with us for less than a year, and we hope he and his team are successful at Seyfarth."
LeClair chairman Gary LeClair told Richmond BizSense last year that he considered New York City—which at the time was home to 32 of the firm’s 340 lawyers—"a very fertile ground for growth." Added LeClair: “Ultimately [New York] will probably become one of our larger offices."
LeClair and Dennis Ryan founded LeClairRyan in Richmond in 1988 as a securities and venture capital boutique. Since then, the firm has grown to 21 offices in the United States (with the exception of outposts in Detroit, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, all of the locations are on the East Coast). The firm generally moves into new markets via mergers or by hiring groups of lawyers from other firms. In 2008, for instance, LeClair absorbed 50-lawyer Wright Robinson Osthimer & Tatum to add lawyers in Detroit, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Richmond, and Washington, D.C., and launched in Hartford when Thelen went under. In 2011 it opened in Rochester and expanded several other offices by poaching a group of 16 lawyers from Nixon Peabody.
The Zuckerman group’s relatively quick departure marks the second time in recent years that LeClair has seen a lateral team hired in New York move on in short order. In July 2011 the firm merged with 14-attorney, European-focused insurance shop Biedermann, Reif, Hoenig & Ruff, taking over Biedermann Reif’s lease in the so-called Lipstick Building in midtown Manhattan. Less than five months later, more than half the group left to form a new boutique, Biedermann Hoenig Semprevivo. The firm’s name partners did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.
The merger left LeClair with two Manhattan locations down the block from one another on Third Avenue, the first of which opened in 2007 with three attorneys. LeClair said in a release at the time of the 2011 merger that it planned to consolidate the offices in the "near future." Today, the firm has 27 lawyers split between its two New York addresses.
Its overall head count ranked LeClair as the 129th largest firm in the U.S. in 2011, according to sibling publication The National Law Journal‘s NLJ 350. Over the past year, the firm has lost at least a dozen other partners and shareholders, according to an Am Law Daily tally. Among the losses: cofounder Ryan, who retired from the firm in February 2012 to become executive vice president at Health Diagnostic Laboratory. (Ryan had advised the company—which develops tests aimed at detecting early signs of diabetes, heart disease, and other conditions—since its founding in 2009.) LeClair also made a number of hires over the past year, including boosting its Los Angeles office with the additions of sports lawyer Alfred "Chip" Sloan in January and a five-lawyer intellectual property and litigation team from Ropers Majeski Kohn Bentley in October.
As for Seyfarth, the new hires bring the number of attorneys in the firm’s New York office to 125. Traditionally known for a labor and employment practice that occupies nearly half its attorneys, Chicago-based Seyfarth has been expanding its real estate practice in recent years. The firm added 21 attorneys to the group in the last year and handled real estate deals valued at more than $15 billion in 2012, according to Monday’s announcement. One of those transactions saw Seyfarth represent Australian-based Dexus Property Group in connection with the sale of 65 properties in its U.S. real estate portfolio to affiliates of Blackstone Real Estate Partners for $770 million.
With gross revenues of $484 million, Seyfarth ranked 61st in The American Lawyer‘s 2011 rankings of the country’s highest-grossing firms. It often bills itself as a leader in client service as a result of SeyfarthLean, a data-driven decision-making tool based on Six Sigma that the firm says helps it better predict how much matters will cost and how tasks within an assignment should be completed.
Seyfarth also recently changed the way it vets the lateral hires being considered for its 11 offices, real estate chair Paul Mattingly told The American Lawyer earlier this year. Mattingly says the firm realized more partners should be involved in the hiring process and instituted a policy requiring each lateral pitch to include a section on potential risks and mitigating factors. Mattingly did not immediately return a call Monday on the most recent laterals.