Jeffrey Melcher, Atlanta.
Jeffrey Melcher, Atlanta. (John Disney/ ALM)

Fast-growing Wilson Elser has opened an Atlanta office—its first in the Southeast—with a six-lawyer team from Gordon & Rees led by Jeffrey Melcher.

“Wilson is committed to growing a regional practice based in Atlanta with an emphasis on defense litigation. That is what is important to us,” said Melcher, who is now the firm’s Southeastern regional managing partner.

Based in New York, the roughly 800-lawyer firm already boasted 30 U.S. offices. A full-service firm with a focus on insurance coverage and litigation, it ranked No. 105 by revenue last year on The American Lawyer’s list of U.S. firms with $309 million in revenue and profits per partner averaging $430,000.

In the past year, several defense firms have also jumped into the Atlanta market, a busy regional hub for insurance defense work, including Chicago-based Litchfield Cavo and Southeastern firm McAngus Goudelock & Courie.

Melcher is joined by Parks Stone, who is the office’s deputy regional managing partner, of counsels Frank Ing-Jye Chao and Tawana Johnson, and associates Ellis Chen-Mei Liu and Jeffrey “J.P.” Putnam.

Melcher said they were recruited to help Wilson Elser expand its Southeast operations. “They’ve got Texas, Louisiana and Florida. This operation will start in Atlanta and spur out to other states we practice in—Alabama, Tennessee and North Carolina.”

Melcher said his commercial litigation practice includes professional liability, directors and officers, insurance coverage and defense matters. He declined to name clients, but said they include insurers and self-insured corporations, trucking and transport companies.

“Opening an office in Atlanta gives Wilson Elser a stronghold in the hub of the Southeast and helps us achieve another major component of our firm’s long-term strategy,” said Wilson Elser chairman Daniel McMahon in a statement.

“With an already strong presence in Florida, including offices in Miami, West Palm Beach and Orlando, the office and this specific team with a practice that reaches beyond Georgia into Alabama, Tennessee and North Carolina, grows our capabilities and our ability to better service our clients throughout the region,” McMahon added.

The office opened March 6.

Grow or Die

Melcher said the firm plans to grow the office “significantly” given the amount of work it already has the region, andhe is already looking to hire a couple of associates.

Melcher and Stone have worked at several national litigation-oriented firms. They joined Gordon & Rees, also an Am Law 200 firm, in 2012 to start its local litigation practice one year after it opened an Atlanta office. Before Gordon & Rees, they were at Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, another national firm with an extensive defense litigation practice, which opened an Atlanta office in 2009.

Melcher said the opportunity with Wilson Elser is different. “The real attraction is to grow a regionally based, but national litigation practice working hand-in-hand with the firm,” he said, adding that the emphasis on growing a regional practice was appealing.

“I don’t feel good at night when I’m missing opportunities,” Melcher said. “If has very little to do with compensation. If you don’t grow, you die.”

The firm may open additional Southeastern offices down the road, he added.

“Wilson is growing and in a way that is pretty remarkable. They go in and set up offices with local attorneys who know the area. I’ve gotten to know other regional managing partners through the process,” said Melcher, who started his career in Atlanta in 1988. “These are not token efforts. They are large efforts that involve a lot of people.”

“We’re already being introduced to major clients from Wilson and they are sending us work. We’re meeting with their partners and introducing them to clients we have,” Melcher said.

Wilson Elser’s office is located in temporary space in Buckhead Tower at 3399 Peachtree Road. Melcher said he expects to sign a lease for permanent office space in the next couple of weeks.