A pair of commercial litigators from Kasowitz Benson Torres—Christopher Johnson and Zachary Mazin—plan to leave the firm and join McKool Smith’s New York office, where they’ll focus on representing hedge funds and institutional investors in financial litigation, McKool Smith said Wednesday.
The hire continues McKool Smith’s expansion in New York, currently the firm’s largest office, with almost 50 lawyers. It also comes after Robin Cohen, another former Kasowitz lawyer known as a top business producer, left last year with six other partners to start an insurance recovery practice at McKool Smith.
Johnson and Mazin’s starting date at McKool Smith hasn’t been announced. But their new firm said their anticipated arrival will bolster McKool Smith’s financial litigation group, which typically represents investors in a range of disputes with major financial institutions.
“We are very excited that Chris and Zach will be joining the firm,” McKool Smith’s managing principal David Sochia said in a statement. “Their arrival will further strengthen our financial litigation practice.”
A Kasowitz spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Johnson and Mazin both have trial experience and have focused in recent years on litigation related to structured financial products such as residential mortgage-backed securities, according to McKool Smith.
Johnson was one of the lead Kasowitz lawyers that represented the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which serves as the conservator for mortgage financers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, in litigation arising out of the 2008 financial crisis. Kasowitz’s work on the FHFA litigation earned it some $77 million in fees.The two lawyers both said in statements that they were drawn to McKool Smith because of its reputation as a trial law powerhouse.
“When you talk about the firms that are winning the big verdicts and handling the significant cases, McKool Smith’s name is always a part of the discussion,” Johnson said.
Beyond its trial prowess, Mazin said McKool Smith was an attractive firm for him because it is an “industry leader” when it comes to working with clients to craft “creative” fee arrangements.
“I represent a number of leading funds who have an appetite for partnering with law firms that aren’t afraid to put some skin in the game by offering mutually beneficial success fee arrangements,” said Mazin.
For Kasowitz, the anticipated departure of Johnson and Mazin marks the latest change in its partnership ranks. Early this year, the firm picked up two real estate partners in Miami, formerly of Akerman.
In 2016, however, the firm lost Cohen and her group to McKool Smith, as well as a family law practice led by high-profile divorce lawyer Eleanor Alter. The family law group left to start a boutique, Alter, Wolff & Foley, and it later emerged that conflict issues helped spur the group’s departure.
Kasowitz has also been in the news lately in light of various connections to President Donald Trump, who has tapped the firm several times for legal work. One of the firm’s original name partners, David Friedman, is now part of the Trump administration as U.S. ambassador to Israel, a move that forced his former firm to change its legal name to Kasowitz Benson Torres.
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