Ethan Skerry of Fenwick & West.
Ethan Skerry of Fenwick & West. (Courtesy photo)

The shake-up of New York’s tech and life sciences legal scene continued this week, with Fenwick & West hiring transactional partner Ethan Skerry from Lowenstein Sandler just as Lowenstein Sandler lured M&A and tech partner Benjamin Burkhart away from Morgan, Lewis & Bockius.

Fenwick & West, which has a large presence in the San Francisco Bay Area, officially opened its New York office in June 2016 in order to compete directly for tech and life sciences transactional work on the east coast. Skerry, who joined the firm on Thursday, is the first major hire since the New York launch.

The moves come as Am Law 100 firms have been bulking up their emerging companies practices in New York, racing to capitalize on the city’s growing significance for emerging company financing and M&A deals.

“What you’re seeing right now is a crossroads,” said Sean Burke, a recruiter with Whistler Partners, who focuses on New York lawyers who work for startups.

Firms like Fenwick & West and Lowenstein Sandler that work with startups are hiring M&A lawyers because their clients have grown and are looking for acquisitions, Burke said. At the same time, “Firms that are big in M&A want to compete more in the emerging company space so that when [those clients] get big, the firms already have the edge to keep them.”

Last year, Latham & Watkins hired David Concannon into its emerging company practice from Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. Perkins Coie added former Lowenstein Sandler emerging companies and venture capital partner Charles Torres to its New York office in March. Lowenstein Sandler, which has an office in DUMBO, the Brooklyn, New York, neighborhood where many startups are based, promptly hired Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo partner Evan Bienstock.

Fenwick opened its New York office soon after hiring Drinker Biddle & Reath’s emerging companies and venture capital partner Ian Goldstein. The firm moved into temporary space in Midtown that can fit about 30 attorneys, but is looking for permanent space and has previously expressed interest in the Flatiron district.

The firm’s latest hire, Skerry, joined Lowenstein Sandler in 2007 after working for two years as associate counsel at Time Inc. and before that as an associate at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton. He represented the marketing firm Buddy Media when it was acquired by Salesforce and the pharmaceutical company Celldex when it acquired CuraGen Corp., according to our previous reports.

Skerry said he began conversations with Fenwick & West soon after learning that the firm would be opening an office in New York. He said he was drawn to the firm because of its reputation and because of the new office’s startup environment. “But a startup that only a lawyer would like,” he added, “because it’s got none of the risk.”

Lowenstein Sandler chairman Gary Wingens said that Skerry “leaves us as a friend of the firm and we truly wish him nothing but the best,” according to a spokesperson.

Burkhart, the M&A partner who joined Lowenstein from Morgan Lewis, has represented clients such as Uber Technologies Inc., Airbnb Inc., Snap Inc. and WeWork Companies, according to a firm announcement about his hire. He joined Morgan Lewis in 2007 after working as of counsel at Proskauer Rose and as an associate at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.

Morgan Lewis did not respond to a request for comment.

Contact Nell Gluckman at ngluckman@alm.com. On Twitter: @ngluckman