During one of the worst legal recessions in decades, it would be completely understandable if Zuckerman Spaeder partner Graeme Bush pulled in his oars with the rest of the industry and waited out the storm.
Instead, as chairman of the firm’s executive committee, Bush chose to expand the firm by bringing in a group of high-profile laterals from New York, Baltimore and Washington, including Steven Cohen, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s chief adviser and strategist, and five top litigators from Baltimore’s Murphy & Shaffer. The move doubled the size of Zuckerman’s Baltimore office. In Washington, the firm added noted U.S. Food and Drug Administration attorney Kate Beardsley.
The New York additions were intended to build the firm’s criminal practice, notable in a year where the firm had successfully defended former International Monetary Fund managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn against charges that he had sexually assaulted a hotel maid.
It was a particularly nice coup for a firm with fewer than 100 attorneys in four offices, including Tampa, Fla. Bush pulled it off for three reasons: Zuckerman’s reputation, its conservative finances and its no-headhunter policy.
“The environment for us was simply different than [what was] facing a lot of firms. We’re not highly leveraged and our business is not cyclical,” said Bush, who navigated these talent acquisitions while maintaining his usually heavy case load, including continued representation of the official committee of unsecured creditors in the Tribune Co. bankruptcy.
Hiring at Zuckerman typically involves a recommendation and a phone call from inside. “We have by and large focused on bringing people into the firm that we know. It makes the bonds in the firm stronger. We don’t have silos here,” Bush said.
Andrew Sandler, chairman and executive partner of Washington-based BuckleySandler, called Bush “a very fine lawyer with judgment I most value. When we started this firm three years ago, [Zuckerman was] one of the models we looked at.”
He added, “They stay within their sweet spot, and that’s where they grow.”