Mark Dombroff appearing on C-SPAN
Mark Dombroff appearing on C-SPAN ()

Dentons is set to lose its aviation group in the U.S. to LeClairRyan, according to two people who follow the practice area. The group, which includes partner Mark Dombroff in Tysons, Virginia, is known for its representation of aviation industry clients after plane crashes.

It is unclear how many partners and lawyers will ultimately move with Dombroff. The group has notified Dentons of its pending departure, yet the lawyers had not left the firm as of Thursday.

Denton’s website lists three U.S. partners who specialize in aviation and aerospace. In a statement, the fast-growing firm confirmed that two aviation practice partners would leave, along with support staffers.

“We will continue to have a large team of more than 100 lawyers globally serving our clients in the aviation and aerospace sector,” the firm said. “We wish the departing group success in the future.”

LeClairRyan CEO C. Erik Gustafson was unavailable for comment Thursday afternoon because he was “in the air,” said an email from the firm’s director of marketing Christina Llames. Other members of LeClairRyan’s management were similarly unreachable. Dombroff declined to comment.

Dentons zoomed into the aviation space when it absorbed McKenna Long & Aldridge in mid-2015 after a two-year courtship. Dombroff previously ran a boutique called Dombroff Gilmore Jaques & French until it was acquired by McKenna Long in early 2013. The deal gave McKenna Long new offices in Northern Virginia and Miami.

Dombroff’s Dentons biography page states that he’s represented airlines like Alaska Airlines Inc., Southwest Airlines Co., Spirit Airlines Inc. and U.S. Airways Group Inc. He also worked on the aftermath of the so-called miracle emergency landing of US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River in 2009, as well as a 2009 Colgan Air crash over Buffalo, New York, which killed 50 people and is the most recent fatal crash for a U.S. commercial airline.

Earlier this week, Dentons aircraft leasing and finance partner Bill Gibson left the firm’s London office to start a Singapore office for Chicago-based Vedder Price. Another two lawyers that Dentons had in a related practice—partner Elizabeth Evans and senior counsel Delbert Smith—took their aviation, aerospace and satellite finance practice to Reed Smith in March. Evans is based in New York, while Smith works out of Northern Virginia.

In May, Dentons saw a pair of partners with a subspecialty in drones—Kenneth Nunnenkamp and Giovanna Cinelli—leave its Tysons office for Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. Cinelli and Nunnenkamp, who are married, previously worked at Jones Day and Patton Boggs. Several other Dentons partners, especially those from legacy McKenna Long, have left Dentons this year, either on their own accord or at the firm’s prompting.

The time is ripe for LeClairRyan to add an aviation group. The Richmond, Virginia-based firm lost a four-partner aviation team in Newark, New Jersey, in March 2016 to Lewis, Brisbois, Bisgaard & Smith. LeClairRyan hit another bump almost a year ago when it agreed to pay $20 million in a settlement with a bankrupt company run by Dennis Ryan, its founding partner. (Ryan retired from the firm in 2012 and joined the Health Diagnostic Laboratory Inc., which filed for Chapter 11 protection in June 2015.)

LeClairRyan currently has a handful of lawyers who represent aviation industry clients, though not exclusively. Those lawyers include Peter Hart, head of the firm’s transportation industry group, and Charles Osthimer III, a member of the firm’s board of directors, who handles liability litigation defense. Gustafson, the firm’s CEO, has also worked with the airline industry as a litigator.

The departure of Dombroff’s team marks at least the fourth aviation group that has changed firms this year. Jenner & Block picked up two partners from United Airlines Inc.’s in-house group and one partner from Crowell & Moring in March. And former Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman partners Kenneth Quinn and Jennifer Trock headed to Baker McKenzie’s Washington, D.C., office in May.