As rumors of Howrey’s dissolution grew louder in early 2011, Jamie Baker, partner-in-charge of Baker Botts’ Washington office, reached out to Sean Boland, then Howrey’s vice chairman for finance. The two started to discuss the possibility of moving 35 antitrust attorneys from Howrey to Baker Botts. Within weeks, the deal was final.
Baker said he had wanted to expand the firm’s antitrust practice for years. He’d just been waiting for the right opportunity.
“They can appear to occur very quickly, but there is a lot of planning and spade work,” Baker said of such multilawyer moves between firms. “Getting this deal done in 2011 was really an outgrowth of work that had been done internally going back a couple of years.”
Baker Botts is known as a conservative firm. When competing Washington firms expanded to Tysons Corner, Va., as high-tech businesses boomed there, for example, Baker Botts was more cautious. When the bubble burst, the other firms’ lawyers were left stranded in Virginia with little work.
Boland and his team from Howrey had also been approached by Winston & Strawn. Client conflicts ultimately tripped up the move to Winston, which Baker counts as lucky for Baker Botts.
“We were quite fortunate that there was only a single conflict that held us up for a matter of days,” Baker said. “When you consider the scale of the move from both sides, that is remarkably lucky.”
To help the lawyers better integrate into the firm, Baker said, the Howrey transplants visited Baker Botts offices in Austin, Texas; Dallas; Houston; New York; and Palo Alto, Calif., to introduce themselves to newfound colleagues in the antitrust practice and make them feel more at home.
Looking forward, Baker sees room for growth in the Washington office in the areas of intellectual property, international trade with respect to export control and importation, merger clearance and life sciences.
“Our feeling on growth generally is we want to do this in a smart way, a measured way,” Baker said. “My philosophy is you are more likely to make a mistake from the wrong action than a critical mistake from inaction.”