Michael Tanenbaum.
Michael Tanenbaum. (Carmen Natale)

San Francisco-based Sedgwick is grappling with significant departures in two major markets this week, as 15 partners and 25 additional lawyers split from the firm in the New York region and Texas.

In Texas 23 lawyers, including nine partners, are joining Drinker Biddle & Reath, marking Drinker Biddle’s entry into the Dallas market.

Six partners from Sedgwick’s Newark, New Jersey, office, along with 11 other lawyers, are also leaving the firm to form a litigation boutique, Tanenbaum Keale, serving New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Sedgwick acknowledged the partner exits in a press release on Wednesday, characterizing them as “efficiency adjustments” related to a “rapidly evolving national and international business climate.” Chairman Michael Healy said the firm is cooperating with the departing partners during the transition.

Healy said both groups were seeking different platforms than Sedgwick offered, and that he plans to regrow both offices.

“We are well positioned to support our clients and look forward to strategic growth in the year ahead,” he said.

Sedgwick partners Wayne Mason, Alan Vickery, W. Neil Rambin, E. Paul Cauley Jr., George McCall, Susan Egeland, Travis Gamble, Dawn Shawger McCord and Sondra Sylva are joining Drinker Biddle to launch the firm’s Dallas office, effective Feb. 1, along with two counsel and 12 associates.

Their practice areas include products liability, class actions, insurance coverage, business disputes and commercial litigation. The additions bring Drinker Biddle to more than 635 lawyers in 12 offices.

Drinker Biddle CEO Andrew Kassner said expanding in Texas was part of the firm’s strategic plan. The firm has a large client base in Texas, he noted. Drinker had a number of common clients with the Sedgwick group, he said, and they encountered no conflicts.

“The more we talked, it just became clear that the industries they serve are Drinker industries,” Kassner said. “These lawyers fit right into our strategy of what I would call calculated growth.”

Mason said the move offers his group the resources of a larger firm. Once his team gets settled, he said, it will aim to grow the office.

“This was really an opportunity for us to continue to build our practices on a larger platform,” Mason said. “The change makes sense at every level for us.”

Maria Karos is Sedgwick’s only remaining partner in Dallas and will now lead the office. Drinker Biddle is expected to take over Sedgwick’s office space there.

A New Platform

In Newark, Michael Tanenbaum, James Keale and Thomas Robertson announced the formation of their new firm shortly before Sedgwick announced the departures Wednesday. Sedgwick partners Chris Keale, Dennis Vega and Tiffany Alexander, along with 11 other lawyers and 18 staff members are also leaving Sedgwick in the move. Robertson will be Tanenbaum Keale’s managing partner when it launches on Feb. 1.

The firm is taking over Sedgwick’s space in Newark as well as its office in Malvern, Pennsylvania, according to James Keale. It will also open a New York office. Some of the Newark lawyers are staying with Sedgwick and partner Robert Towey will lead that office, Sedgwick’s statement said.

Tanenbaum Keale will focus on pharmaceutical, medical device and environmental mass tort litigation as well as products liability and catastrophic injury defense. Clients of the founding partners include Boston Scientific Corp., AMEC Foster Wheeler, H.B. Fuller, General Electric, CBS, Caterpillar and Coach USA.

Tanenbaum, James Keale and Robertson have a long history, having practiced law together at McCarter & English more than 25 years ago.

Tanenbaum joined Sedgwick in 2001, and was chairman of the firm from 2007 to 2015. James Keale and Robertson joined Sedgwick in 2004. Keale was chairman of the firm’s complex litigation division and an executive committee member, and Robertson was managing partner of Sedgwick’s Newark office.

Keale said he and his partners have had a cooperative, collaborative relationship with Sedgwick throughout the departure process, which began late last year. He said the move provides an opportunity to better mentor and develop the firm’s lawyers.

“The market has changed and instead of seeking a larger platform, we wanted a smaller, more personal, platform that will enable us to adapt to those changes and react nimbly and quickly to client needs,” Tanenbaum said in a statement.

Sedgwick had 273 lawyers in 2015, according to The National Law Journal’s NLJ 500, which represented a 12 percent drop in head count from 2014. The firm ranked 152nd on the Am Law 200 in 2016, with $183 million in gross revenue.

The firm made headlines last year when it faced a gender-bias class action lawsuit brought by a nonequity partner. Traci Ribeiro, of Sedgwick’s Chicago office, claimed that women were precluded from earning equal pay and said she was denied a promotion to equity partner in 2012 despite being the firm’s third-highest revenue generator. Ribeiro’s case was sent to arbitration in November.

Keale and Healy said the lawyers’ departures were unrelated to Ribeiro’s case or claims.

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