Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in Washington, D.C.
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Mark Van Scyoc/Shutterstock.com)

In the latest batch of departures from Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, energy and commodities partners Paul Pantano Jr. and Athena Eastwood announced Thursday that they would join Willkie Farr & Gallagher in Washington, D.C.

“Paul and Athena will enhance our commodities and derivatives practice and bring a leading enforcement defense practice to our firm. We have known and respected this team for many years now,” said a statement by Willkie chairman Thomas Cerabino.

Pantano and Eastwood were unavailable to comment on the circumstances surrounding their exit from Cadwalader, a firm that has struggled in recent years due to a slump in litigation and an abrupt leadership change.

“We are very excited to join Willkie’s team of outstanding lawyers,” Pantano said in his own statement. “Our clients will benefit tremendously from the skills and experience of Willkie’s energy transactional, restructuring, regulatory and litigation practices.”

Cadwalader, one of the nation’s oldest law firms, said the moves are part of an effort to refocus itself on financial services.

“We continue to execute on our growth strategy, but our strategy is not for everyone,” said a firm spokesman in a statement. “We wish our former partners well. We will continue to actively serve our clients at the highest level.”

Willkie is no stranger to recruiting Cadwalader partners. In September, Willkie welcomed litigation partner Martin Seidel to its ranks in New York. Seidel had been at Cadwalader for 15 years and was named chair of its corporate litigation department about six months before he left the firm.(Cadwalader subsequently moved to re-stock its litigation group.)

Pantano first moved to Cadwalader in January 2011 as a part of a nine-partner energy team leaving McDermott Will & Emery, a move that coincided with Cadwalader’s plans to open an office in Houston. Pantano (pictured right) had been a member of McDermott’s management committee and was head of the firm’s energy and commodities advisory practice in Washington, D.C.

Eastwood, then a partner at McDermott, left the firm with five other colleagues for Cadwalader’s energy practice about a week after Pantano headed to the firm. Pantano became leader of Cadwalader’s energy regulatory team in the nation’s capital. In 2013, he took the lead on the firm’s representation of Barclays plc following a $435 million penalty levied by the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission against the British banking giant for its alleged electric energy price manipulation in California and other western markets.

Since 2014, however, Cadwalader’s energy practice has watched its head count dip.

Sidley Austin raided Cadwalader for three Houston-based energy partners in early 2015, and by the end of that year, most of the initial nine partners staffing the office had left. Michael Niebruegge, an energy partner in Houston, left in mid-2014 for Bracewell before moving to Willkie a few months later. Chad Mills, hired by Cadwalader from Sutherland Asbill & Brennan in 2015, is now the firm’s sole remaining partner in Houston.

Since the beginning of 2015, Cadwalader’s head count has continued to fall. The firm announced in late September the closure of its operations in Asia, shuttering offices in Beijing and Hong Kong. British firm Stephenson Harwood hired this week Cadwalader M&A partner Jane Ng in Hong Kong, according to sibling publication The Asian Lawyer, which also recently noted the departure of Cadwalader’s Asia managing partner Rocky Lee for King & Wood Mallesons and Dechert’s addition of corporate partner Stephen Chan, both of whom worked in Hong Kong.

James Woolery, who was Cadwalader’s highest-paid partner after being hired in early 2013, left the firm two years ago this month to start a new investment venture. In November, Woolery left that enterprise after being bought out by his co-founding partner, according to our previous reports.