(Diego M. Radzinschi/THE NATIONAL LAW JOURNAL)
Bobby Burchfield, head of the complex litigation group at McDermott Will & Emery, has left the firm with fellow litigation partner Matthew Leland for King & Spalding.
The moves comes after two top IP litigation partners left McDermott in Silicon Valley and Washington, D.C., for Paul Hastings, as noted by sibling publication The Recorder, and McDermott’s hire of Holland & Knight’s international private client practice head Leigh-Alexandra Basha.
Burchfield leaves McDermott after more than a decade at the firm, which the nationally recognized trial and appellate lawyer joined in 2004 after nearly 23 years at Covington & Burling. Burchfield was a member of McDermott’s 21-member management committee and served on the firm’s five-member executive committee. He was also a candidate for McDermott’s top leadership role in 2009 and spent nine years as co-head of the firm’s office in Washington, D.C.
The decision to leave McDermott wasn’t easy—Burchfield credits Vicki Rosenberg, president of Maryland-based Diamond Legal Search, with assisting him—but he found himself drawn to King & Spalding, a firm looking for a top-flight litigator in the nation’s capital since the abrupt departure of former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement in 2011. (Clement, now a partner at conservative bastion Bancroft, left King & Spalding after the firm sought to withdraw from its role in litigation challenging same-sex marriage.)
“King & Spalding has attracted a stable of talent and performed exceptionally well in recent years,” says Burchfield of the 886-lawyer firm that saw gross revenue rise 8.4 percent in 2014, to $934 million, while profits per partner jumped 10 percent to nearly $2.36 million. “I think what they were looking for was a first-chair trial lawyer in their D.C. office.”
A source in King & Spalding’s office in the nation’s capital, who requested anonymity in order to speak freely, confirms that the firm wanted a bigger name like Burchfield to bolster its business litigation expertise, and less so for the political work, of which the North Carolina native has done plenty in recent years.
Burchfield, like Clement before him, is known for his prowess in the political arena, particularly when it comes to conservative causes. The former general counsel to President George H.W. Bush’s re-election campaign in 1992 teamed up with Clement as co-counsel last year in a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that ended with a ruling striking down limits on political campaign contributions. The decision shocked and angered campaign finance reform advocates, but for Burchfield, who represented Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky in arguing against donor limits, the ruling allows more money to flow into political parties and to challenge incumbents, thereby making the system more democratic, not less.
“[Politics] is one those things where once you get the disease, it’s kind of incurable,” says Burchfield, who is part of a high-powered legal team assembled by former Texas Gov. Rick Perry to fight felony charges in the Lone Star State, the bills from which sibling publication Texas Lawyer reported in January hit $126,665 for McDermott. “But while I enjoy the constitutional, First Amendment and campaign finance cases, the bulk of my practice is business litigation.”
Burchfield is bullish about King & Spalding’s prospects for picking up big-ticket cases for corporate clients, even as firms like Goodwin Procter and Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman cut attorneys and staff after watching some of the larger financial crisis cases resolve themselves without suitable replacements in the litigation pipeline.
“The complexion of high-stakes litigation is certainly changing, but I think there will continue to be a need for strong trial lawyers that can position clients against all kinds of risks,” says Burchfield, noting that companies confront a variety of disputes with competitors and consumers. “A key driver of postcrisis litigation is going to be government policy. Is government done with the financial institutions? There’s always parallel civil litigation from government investigations, so there will be plenty of new opportunities to advise clients.”
Burchfield will test that new environment at King & Spalding, as will Leland, a former senior policy adviser to Sen. John Sununu, who also spent the past decade at McDermott, making partner in 2011. Over the weekend, Burchfield began moving his personal effects into King & Spalding’s office near the White House in anticipation of his first day at the firm Monday. He admits the process of leaving McDermott—a firm based near Capitol Hill in a building bearing its name—is bittersweet.
Lazar Raynal, a McDermott partner in Chicago, remains head of the firm’s trial practice. In a statement provided to The Am Law Daily by a McDermott spokesman, the firm wished Burchfield and its other departing partners the best, but cited data from The American Lawyer’s recent Lateral Report showing that in a robust market for partner movement the firm’s retention rate for partners was better than that of many competitors.
“We are reminded that attorney movement is now a constant facet of the legal industry’s ‘New Normal,’” the firm said. “Law firm partners operate in a very fluid market [and leave] for many reasons. Whatever the reason, we’re often the beneficiary of such movement. Indeed we have brought on 8 new lateral partners since Jan. 1.”
McDermott says that while it “will miss the partners who are now announcing their departures,” the firm also takes “great pride in the recruiting success” it has enjoyed, noting the recent hire of Holland & Knight’s Basha and pointing to “some major announcements in the weeks ahead.”
McDermott, which last year was one of many Am Law 200 firms to cite technological changes in the law firm business as necessitating the reduction of 25 secretarial positions, saw gross revenue and partner profits remain mostly flat in 2014. In January, the firm saw European antitrust leader Martina Maier in Brussels decamp for Unilever to become the conglomerate’s head of competition, even as it nabbed former Virginia Rep. James Moran as a senior legislative adviser in its lobbying group in Washington, D.C. (McDermott also hired a new chief operating officer this year by bringing on John Yoshimura from global consulting firm A.T. Kearney.)
As for Burchfield, right now he’s happy to put his management days behind him and focus on integrating his practice into King & Spalding. He declined to discuss compensation at his new firm or specify his reasons for leaving McDermott—“They’re a strong firm with some very fine litigators,” he says—or identify others that sought out his services.
“I don’t like to talk about my old girlfriends,” Burchfield adds jokingly. “For me, King & Spalding just really stood out.”