Eversheds Sutherland’s trusts and estates team has departed for Atlanta boutique The Bowden Spratt Law Firm.
Partner Nick Djuric moved to Bowden Spratt on Sept. 1, with senior partner Charlie Hurt joining as of counsel and associate Elizabeth Faist joining as counsel.
They have become part of a gradual but inexorable trend for trusts and estates lawyers at big firms, who have been heading to boutiques for more than a decade as their firms become ever larger and national.
Djuric said legacy firm Sutherland Asbill & Brennan’s combination earlier this year with UK-based Eversheds, creating a 2,400 lawyer international firm with 66 offices, prompted him to acknowledge it was finally time to make a change.
The combination did not affect his team economically, Djuric said, since the legacy Sutherland and Eversheds firms maintain separate finances under a limited company by guarantee structure, but “it’s a lot tougher fitting in,” at a large international firm.
“[The Eversheds deal] illustrated the fact that Sutherland is a big firm and getting bigger. I’m proud of that. I love the firm, and I think it’s the best firm in town—and now the world,” said Djuric, who had spent his 21-year career at Sutherland after starting there as a summer associate.
“The combination is a huge advantage to folks in the energy, real estate, mergers groups—they’re going to thrive. But that’s not useful for us,” he said. “T&E is an inexpensive practice—we don’t need that overhead.”
The lower overhead and rate structure of a boutique is a better fit for a trusts and estates practice, he said, where lawyers are representing individuals and families, not large corporations.
The Sutherland team’s addition gives Bowden Spratt 11 lawyers, plus three paralegals.
Djuric said Bowden Spratt was the only firm he considered joining. “They have a very sophisticated group of T&E lawyers whom I knew very well,” he said. “T&E is a small bar.”
He called it an “intellectually stimulating environment” to be around lawyers doing nothing but trusts and estates law. “It’s neat to be part of a big team again,” he said.
“Nick is one of the best trust and estates lawyers in the Southeast, and his focus has always been on what is best for his clients. A boutique platform provides just that,” said Eversheds Sutherland co-chief executive officer Mark Wasserman in an email, as he traveled back to Atlanta from Singapore, where his firm has an office.
“I was very proud to be part of [Sutherland's] tax group and keep an estate-planning tradition,” Djuric said, noting that the firm’s trusts and estates practice in Atlanta and Washington started in the 1930s. The Washington team had already dispersed, he said, after Lloyd Leva Plaine died in 2010 and Doug Siegler went to Venable a couple of years ago.
That left Djuric, Hurt and Faist as the remaining trusts and estates lawyers at Sutherland. Hurt, who turned 80 in June, still comes to work every day, Djuric added. “As many T&E lawyers do, Charlie keeps at it into his retirement years.”
At Bowden Spratt, they will continue to share clients with Eversheds Sutherland, Djuric said. “They do the corporate work for clients for whom we do the estate planning.” Some Sutherland partners are among their clients, he added.
“We are entirely pleased that Charlie, Nick and Elizabeth have agreed to join our firm,” said Henry Bowden Jr. “They could have their pick of law firms to which to take their practice. It honors us and makes us an even better law firm.”
Bowden Spratt also added a first-year associate, Phoebe Edge, on Sept. 1. Edge is a 2017 graduate of Georgia State University College of Law.
A Slow-Moving Wave
Following a national trend, other large Atlanta firms including King & Spalding and Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton shed their trusts and estates practices years ago because of the growing gap in practice rates.
“Sutherland never did that to us. We were a very valued member of the tax group in Atlanta and Washington,” Djuric said. “But the pressures of becoming a bigger firm—Big Law—that were felt by those lawyers were also felt by us.”
The phenomenon started in Atlanta back in 1995, when Bowden left the trusts and estates department at King & Spalding to start The Bowden Firm with his wife, Jean, and his father, Henry Bowden Sr.
“Henry saw where things were heading,” Djuric observed.
They became The Bowden Spratt Law Firm in 2009, when James Spratt Jr. and two other lawyers similarly decamped from King & Spalding.
“We were in the forefront of this wave,” Bowden said, adding that a trusts and estates practice is one lawyer representing an individual, so it’s not really a fit for a big firm where many lawyers work on a single matter.
The remaining three members of King & Spalding’s trusts and estates department left in 2010 for a boutique, Abrams Davis Mason & Long. That firm, which formed in 2007, was the former trusts and estates team from Kilpatrick.
Ralph Morrison also joined Abrams Davis in 2010 from Jones Day’s local trusts and estates practice. Morrison and the King & Spalding lawyers, John Wallace, Stevie Casteel and John Jones, went on to form their own boutique, Wallace Morrison & Casteel.
Some large firms still have trusts and estates practices. Alston & Bird notably has a six-lawyer wealth-planning team in its Atlanta headquarters.
“We are kind of the exception,” said the group’s head, Mark Williamson, adding that trusts and estates lawyers exiting big firms for boutiques has been happening since he joined Alston in the mid-1990s, starting with Bowden. (By coincidence, Bowden Spratt’s new first-year associate, Edge, is the daughter of Bob Edge, a senior member of Alston’s wealth-planning practice.)
The other large firms with local trust and estates lawyers, Williamson said, are Troutman Sanders, Bryan Cave and Arnall Golden Gregory.
At Alston, he added, “We have no plans to change. We are blessed with our leadership at the firm and blessed with who’s in our group.”
Meredith Hobbs writes about the Atlanta legal community and the business of law. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @MeredithHobbs