Chicago.
Chicago. (Credit: Starcevic/iStockphoto.com)

Big law firms often trumpet a new office in a new city as a sign of increased demand for the firm and an investment in the future.

That’s not the case with Manatt, Phelps & Phillips’ Chicago office.

The Los Angeles-based firm set up shop in the Windy City earlier this year after hiring top consumer finance litigator Richard Gottlieb from fast-growing Am Law 200 firm BuckleySandler. At the time, Manatt’s April release touting Gottlieb’s hire noted that he had joined the firm’s Los Angeles headquarters, but made no mention of him also being based out of Chicago.

Manatt’s website now shows Chicago as the 10th office for the firm, which took the top spot in The American Lawyer’s most recent Am Law 200 rankings with $324 million in gross revenue last year. Since Gottlieb’s addition to the firm, Manatt has brought on three more lawyers in Chicago.

Litigation partner Brett Natarelli and counsel A. Paul Heeringa came aboard from BuckleySandler, while senior attorney Art Radke joined the firm from his solo practice in the city.

So, what’s Manatt’s Midwest move all about?

Laura Miller, a firm spokeswoman, said the hire of Gottlieb in April was a complement to its core financial services practice. Gottlieb’s colleagues in Chicago were brought in to service his “broad, national client base,” Miller said.

Manatt is currently evaluating strategic options for developing a Chicago office, Miller added. In particular, the firm is looking into additions in the financial services and health care industries, practices that Manatt believes it has a competitive advantage over its peers.

With Gottlieb in place, the firm is off to a strong start in the country’s third-largest legal market by lawyer head count. A fellow of the American College of Consumer Financial Services Lawyers, Gottlieb is known for writing a treatise on consumer financial services, an area of growing importance for banks and other lenders since the 2011 creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Prior to joining BuckleySandler in 2013, Gottlieb was at Dykema Gossett, where he was a member of the senior management team and director of the firm’s financial industry group. Gottlieb, Natarelli and Heeringa represent at least the third round of hires by Manatt from BuckleySandler within the past few years.

Donna Wilson joined Manatt in July 2013 from her position as the West Coast leader of BuckleySandler’s litigation and data privacy team. And John McGuinness came aboard a month later as a litigation partner in Los Angeles. All of the hires have a focus on litigation and consumer finances.

In the release announcing his hire, Gottlieb said he was eager to continue practicing with Wilson.

Since being started in 2009 after former Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom partner Andrew Sandler linked up with a Washington, D.C.-based boutique, BuckleySandler has quickly emerged as a heavy-hitter in the area of consumer financial services.

Sandler declined to comment about the lawyers who have left his firm for Manatt, but while plans for that firm’s Chicago office remain murky, Sandler said BuckleySandler is keen on expanding its office in the city.

“We’re committed to growing the Chicago office to what we have space for, around 20 lawyers, over the next couple of years,” Sandler said in an interview Wednesday. “And we’re actively looking at several lateral partners at the moment.”

BuckleySandler’s Chicago office is led by Valerie Hletko, who was part of a team of lawyers who left Skadden in 2009 to start BuckleySandler. She splits her time between Chicago and Washington, D.C. BuckleySandler has also had its fair share of notable additions in 2016.

They include counsel Dana Syracuse, a former associate general counsel of the New York Department of Financial Services; counsel Kathleen Ryan, former deputy assistant director for the CFPB’s office of regulations; and partner Preston Burton, a trial lawyer who once represented Monica Lewinsky.

As for Manatt, the firm’s Los Angeles-based rival Munger, Tolles & Olson made headlines of its own Wednesday, announcing its opening of an office in Washington, D.C., after hiring former U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr.