William Casey (from left), Richie Foster and Erica Morton, Swift Currie, Atlanta William Casey (from left), Richie Foster and Erica Morton, Swift Currie, Atlanta (Photo: John Disney / ALM)

Swift, Currie, McGhee & Hiers has landed three partners who practiced together for more than a decade at Marietta boutique Hicks, Casey & Morton—William Casey Jr., Erica Morton and Richie Foster—along with seven lawyers who work with them.

Adding the 10-lawyer group continues an unprecedented growth spree for the defense litigation firm. With these additions, it has increased its lawyer head count by almost one-third since the beginning of 2017. Swift Currie added 13 lawyers in January alone, on top of 16 new hires last year, leaving it with 135 lawyers in all.

“It is a significant moment at Swift Currie to grow by more than 10 percent in 30 days,” said managing partner Terry Brantley.

Casey and Morton joined Swift Currie on Jan.1, followed on Jan. 15 by Foster, who’d been their law partner at what was then Hicks, Casey & Foster in Marietta until he departed three years ago for another of Atlanta’s big defense litigation firms, Carlock, Copeland & Stair.

Foster told the Daily Report at the time that few of his trucking defense clients are local, so his practice would benefit from a larger, more regional firm.

Casey and Morton brought three lawyers with them to Swift Currie: senior attorney Monica Wingler and associates Stephanie Bartasis and Amy Dowis.

Foster brought four associates: Anna Beaton, Beth Bentley and Marvis Jenkins from Carlock, plus Marc Hood, who’d left Carlock for Cozen O’Connor last summer.

Swift Currie had been courting its three new partners for several years, Brantley said.

“We’ve shared clients with Bill and Erica for a number of years, and a number of our attorneys have litigated with Bill, Erica and Ritchie for decades. We have found them to be excellent lawyers and fantastic people,” he said. “They are going to fit into this firm’s culture very well.”

Strategically, Brantley said, the additions broaden Swift Currie’s relationships with several shared clients and expand its reach into the transportation industry, where Foster has clients.

“Our business fits with theirs, and they bring these intangibles we value,” he said, mentioning their reputations in the legal community and ability to serve as role models.

Bulking Up

Brantley attributed Swift Currie’s rapid growth over the past 13 months, even as competition in the Atlanta defense litigation market has heated up, to several factors.

Insurance defense litigation has increased, he said, so the firm has added lawyers to keep up with client needs.

“There is clearly an uptick in the number of cases being filed and claims being made,” Brantley said, noting that he tracks that activity in an annual analysis. He also said he thinks the firm’s ability to retain and develop lawyers has contributed to its expansion. As the younger ones “grow into partners, they develop new business from existing clients,” Brantley said.

Swift Currie has promoted six lawyers to partner each of the last two years—a larger number than before, he added. Increasing diversity is a priority for the firm, he said, and women made up one-third of these new partners, he said.

A New Era

Hicks Casey & Morton’s founder, Sam Hicks, decided last May that he would retire at the end of the year, Casey said. Hicks had a bankruptcy practice, while Casey and Morton handle defense litigation.

“It prompted Erica and I to rekindle some discussions we have had over the years with Swift Currie,” Casey said. “The timing was right to make the move.”

“We practiced for many years with Sam Hicks,” Casey added. “He is a fine gentleman and he has done everything to make this transition as smooth for us as he possibly could. We are going to miss him. He’s been a big part of our lives.”

Combined, the three partners spent just over 60 years at the firm. Casey joined Hicks’ firm 30 years ago, early in his legal career. Foster started working there in 1997 and Morton joined fresh out of law school in 2004.

Rather than continue practicing in Marietta without Hicks, Casey and Morton decided a big firm offered the potential to grow their practice.

“We practice the same type of law and the same way as at Swift Currie,” Casey said, “and we have a lot of overlapping clients.”

Foster said his trucking defense clients including Amerisure Mutual Insurance Co., Columbia Insurance Group, TMC Transportation, Rooms To Go and Tysons Foods.

The cross-selling opportunities with Swift Currie’s large workers’ compensation practice were a draw, Foster said. “Sometimes it’s an issue to make sure the firm you cross-market with will do a good job,” he added. “I trust the people here.”

Casey and Morton share liability carriers and some retail clients with Swift Currie, including Auto-Owners Insurance, The Travelers Indemnity Co., Dollar General, PetSmart and Belk.

“Our practices dovetail nicely, which makes for an easy transition for us and our clients,” Morton said, adding that she handles the general liability claims for several retail clients while Swift Currie handles the workers’ compensation claims.

Joining a firm that is growing and flourishing in a time when not all firms are, Morton added, was also appealing.

Also in January, Swift Currie hired Carl “Trey” Dowdy III as a senior associate from Carr Allison in Birmingham to expand the firm’s workers compensation practice to its Alabama office. Brantley said Swift Currie had been looking for a workers’ compensation defense practitioner in Birmingham, where it has a five-lawyer outpost, to handle Alabama referrals in that area.

In Atlanta, it hired associates Smita Gautam from Rubin Lublin and Rachel Mathews, who’d been a staff attorney for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.