While many Am Law firms are scaling back their wealth management groups—or dropping them altogether—Choate, Hall & Stewart is beefing up on that front. Along those lines, the Boston-based firm announced that is taking on a four-partner team from Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr.
With partners Jennifer Snyder, Nan Giner, Michael Fay, and Brian Monnich, along with a yet-to-be-determined number of staff and associates, moving to Choate Hall in December, Wilmer will eliminate what has been known as its private client group, which advised high net-worth individuals on a slew of tax and legal matters.
Management from both Wilmer and Choate Hall say the mutually agreed-upon move is more about Choate Hall furthering its commitment to the practice than Wilmer actively seeking to shed the group.
Choate Hall’s co-managing partner John Nadas said in an interview Tuesday that when the firm decided earlier this year that it wanted to expand its five-partner, 50-person wealth management team, it looked to Wilmer, a firm with which it has long enjoyed a close relationship. Talks between the two firms began several months ago, according to Wilmer co-managing partner Susan Murley.
“We saw this as a unique opportunity to make an already great practice area even stronger,” says William Gelnaw, Nadas’s fellow co-managing partner. “We were and remain really impressed by the talent that’s come to join us.” Nadas cites wealth management as one of some half-dozen practice areas that his firm specializes in. Others include government enforcement and compliance, private equity and M&A, and insurance and reinsurance work.
The four new hires were not available for comment Tuesday, according to a Choate Hall spokeswoman.
In recent years, several large firms have moved away from trusts and estates and wealth management work. In 2006, for instance, O’Melveny & Myers shut down its practice when its two marquee partners moved to Loeb & Loeb in Los Angeles. Latham & Watkins and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher eliminated its groups years before that.
More recently, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati oversaw the transition in 2010 of a six-attorney group to Silicon Valley boutique Hopkins & Carley, and Weil, Gotshal & Manges closed its trust and estates practice in April 2011 when the firm’s entire seven-attorney team—citing Weil’s move away from individual-client representation as the reason for their departure—jumped to McDermott Will & Emery. In June, Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo sold an affiliate financial advisory business that had managed $1.04 billion in assets, though its lawyers still advise private clients.
Choate Hall also offers investment services, which most law firms outside of Boston shy away from because of potential concerns over conflicts that arise when providing both legal and financial advice. In Boston, the popularity of such work at law firms dates to the 19th century, when merchants heading to sea would entrust lawyers with overseeing their financial affairs.
Wilmer’s Murley conceded Tuesday that times have changed since the early days of predecessor Hale and Dorr, when representing individuals was more integral to the firm. “Our practice has evolved and it is less focused on individuals than it was once was,” said Murley, who lists litigation, transactions, securities, intellectual property, and regulatory work as Wilmer’s current areas of focus. For the most part, Murley said, the private client group was a standalone practice.
Boston-based Choate Hall, which has roughly 150 lawyers, ranked 168 on the Am Law 200 in 2011, with gross revenue of $140 million and profits per equity partner of $1.41 million. Wilmer, meanwhile, has 880 lawyers and ranked eighteenth on the Am Law 100 list, with gross revenue of $994 million and profits per equity partner of $1.38 million.