Flemming Zulack Williamson Zauderer, a prominent 12-attorney litigation boutique founded about 47 years ago, will dissolve at the end of June, with its senior partners and other lawyers joining separate firms.
The name partners said they decided to dissolve the firm upon the firm’s lease expiration on June 30, rather than find a new lease with long-term financial commitments tied to it.
Zauderer and three other attorneys at Flemming Zulack will join Manhattan-based Ganfer & Shore. With their addition, the firm will be renamed Ganfer Shore Leeds & Zauderer in July and will have 27 attorneys. Others joining Zauderer at the Ganfer firm include partner Craig Kesch, of counsel Jason Cohen and associate Grant Shehigian.
Meanwhile, Flemming Zulack name partner Richard Williamson will join Manhattan midsize firm Tarter Krinsky & Drogin as a partner with four other attorneys, including partners Lissa Gipson and Elizabeth O’Connor and of counsel lawyers Robert Polifka and Cathi Baglin.
Flemming Zulack name partner John Zulack will join 25-attorney Allegaert Berger Vogel in New York. (Name partner Peter Flemming retired from the firm several years ago.)
The firm’s work is well known throughout New York. For instance, Zauderer represented a former chief of the New York Stock Exchange, Richard Grasso, in a suit brought by then New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer over his pay package. He also represented former Clinton administration cabinet member Ronald Brown in a lawsuit over presidential debates.
Zulack has represented more than 20 European banks and investment funds that have been sued in New York, and Williamson has represented Silverstein tenant defendants and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in World Trade Center litigation. In asbestos personal injury litigation, Williamson was part of the national teams for several defendants.
As a result of its reputation, Flemming Zulack was frequently approached by other firms or headhunters for potential mergers or acquisitions, but the firm consistently declined, Zauderer said. ”We liked our independence,” he said.
The litigation boutique had been subleasing from Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton at One Liberty Plaza for years. Cleary had recently told the firm that it may need to recapture the space when the sublease expired on June 30, Williamson said. After having been at the same space for decades, Williamson said he didn’t want to go through the ordeal of finding a new office.
“That’s a whole big headache to have to go search for space and make a financial commitment,” he said.
Law firm lease expirations are a common catalyst for small firm dissolutions. In recent years, the Law Journal has reported on a host of small firms folding, at least in part, due to lease expirations, including Wormser, Kiely, Galef & Jacobs; Kornstein Veisz Wexler & Pollard; Hofheimer Gartlir & Gross; and Morgenthau & Greenes.
Williamson said the dissolution of Flemming Zulack has a “certain tinge of sadness,” but at the same time, the transition period “is a rite of passage.” In interviews, each of the three name partners pointed to the benefits of joining firms that align with their various practices.
Zauderer, a past president of the Federal Bar Council and a member of the board of editors of the Law Journal, noted it was a friendly dissolution and the senior lawyers in the firm have “different long-range objectives.” Zauderer said he has “a very active practice,” adding, “I want to continue what I’m doing for a couple decades to come, if life allows.”
“If we’re not renewing the lease, this is what we thought makes the most sense,” Williamson said. “The driving factor is finding a law firm that’s really a high-quality law firm where there’s an ability to bring the group’s lawyers.”
Zauderer said he was seeking a top quality firm that could support his litigation practice and the lawyers who frequently work with him, as well as a smaller firm that would be free from conflicts.
“I need to be conflict-free,” he said, noting he often represents both plaintiffs and defendants in complex commercial litigation, as well as representing law firms in malpractice cases and partnership disputes. Zauderer continues to serve as a referee in the Napoli Bern law firm dissolution, acting with the power of the New York Supreme Court.
Zauderer also noted that the Ganfer firm’s real estate practice fits and complements his own work in real estate-related litigation.
Steven Shore, a managing partner of the Ganfer firm, said his firm has never brought on four attorneys at once, but “this is going to significantly expand our capabilities.” Zauderer and Shore had been talking about the move since February, he said. “He had mentioned that his firm was probably not going to continue, and I pounced on the opportunity,” Shore said.
“Mark is a very well known quantity and has a significant client base, so this will add to our bottom line,” Shore said, when asked about any boost in firm business as a result of the additions.
But Shore said the motivating factor for the move was their shared view on litigation and small firm platforms. Both previously worked at large firms—Zauderer was a partner for two years at DLA Piper and Shore was an attorney at Weil, Gotshal & Manges decades ago—but both preferred to lead a boutique. “We both believe that boutiques in this day and age can take on the big firms and obtain favorable results on more economic bases,” Shore said.
Shore said his firm’s partner billing rates are between $400 to $650 an hour, and while Zauderer’s rates are higher, the two don’t anticipate difficulties from the difference.
For his part, Zulack said Allegaert Berger does similar work to his own, including complex international litigation, and “they’re a generation younger than I am.” He said his principal clients are European banks that are defendants in litigation arising out of the Madoff Ponzi scheme.
In joining Allegaert Berger, Zulack said he wanted to make sure his clients have the support of a top quality firm. “I wanted to fit my practice into a niche that was really compatible with what I do,” he said.
Williamson, who focuses on trials and appeals and products liability and mass tort defense litigation, said he’s known the lawyers at Tarter Krinsky for years, including his own estate planning lawyer, Joanne Palumbo, and name partner Alan Tarter. He said he was also attracted to the firm’s quality of work; its increasing size; and its ability to handle more matters as a full-service firm.