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In late January, Carter Phillips, the cochair of Sidley Austin’s executive committee, contacted a recruiter he knew to determine whether a Bingham McCutchen securities enforcement partner Sidley was interested in hiring—and with whom the headhunter had worked before—might be looking to make a move.

The recruiter, Linda Ginsberg, replied to the inquiry on January 25 with a message that Phillips says immediately spurred him into action. "’You’re behind,’" he says Ginsberg told him in an email in which she let him know that the attorney’s entire group was already in serious discussions with another firm.

At that point, Phillips says, "We kicked things into gear." The talks advanced, and on Monday news broke that an 11-lawyer broker-dealer team had quit Bingham for Sidley. The new hires are spread across five cities, including two that Sidley does not already have offices in: Boston and Portland, Maine, where three of the ex-Bingham lawyers, including onetime UBS Financial Services general counsel Herbert Janick III, are based.

The other members of the team, which includes practice group leader Neal Sullivan and former FINRA enforcement head Susan Merrill, work out of New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. (Phillips declined to say which lawyer the firm initially targeted, though Merrill—who joined Bingham from FINRA in 2010—seems the most likely to have used a recruiter in recent years. Both Merrill and Ginsberg are also Davis Polk & Wardwell alums).

The group broke the news internally at their former firm on Monday, says Bingham partner Timothy Burke, who serves as cochair of the firm’s 300-lawyer financial services group and now heads the broker-dealer practice previously led by Sullivan.

Sullivan, who has been with Bingham since 1998, relinquished another leadership role in January when he stepped down from the firm’s 18-member management committee, Burke confirmed Tuesday. Burke replaced him in that capacity as well.

Burke downplayed the losses, saying Bingham doesn’t expect them to affect any client relationships or to hurt the firm financially in 2013. "One thing to emphasize," he says, "Before any of these folks came to Bingham, we had a broker-dealer practice that was strong, and we will continue to have a strong practice."

After the departures, Bingham’s broker-dealer group—which represents financial institutions in regulatory enforcement, compliance, new product approval, litigation, arbitration, and employment matters—will count approximately 20 partners and 40 other lawyers, Burke says. The lawyers who left, he notes, focused on the nonlitigation elements of the practice.

For his part, Phillips says that bringing the Bingham team aboard was not a difficult proposition to sell within Sidley, and that the incoming team presented virtually no conflicts with existing Sidley clients, many of which the two firms already share. Phillips specifically identifies Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, Bank of America, and Citibank as among the clients the new arrivals advise. He adds that the group also expressed interest in working with Sidley clients, including those outside the financial services realm, in Chicago, Asia, and other offices.

"This is as good, or better, as any group in the country," Phillips says. "It’s nice to compete at the top levels of this practice."

None of the new hires could be reached for comment Tuesday.

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