Littler Mandelson.
Littler Mandelson. (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM)

Fast-growing global labor and employment giant Littler Mendelson has recruited K&L Gates partner Donald Dowling Jr. for its New York office.

Dowling, who joined K&L Gates two years ago from White & Case, specializes in counseling U.S.-based multinational companies on cross-border employment law issues.

“I’ll be much more integrated into the global employment practice here,” Dowling said of 989-lawyer Littler, which is the world’s largest labor and employment-centric firm. “From the very beginning, I’m playing a central role in our global employment initiatives.”

Dowling said that Littler is split into two sections. Littler Global, the Swiss verein network formed in 2013 after Littler expanded into Central America, is one side of the firm’s offering. The other is an international employment practice with which Dowling will be working that advises on cross-border matters, such as compliance issues, global investigations, M&A deals and expatriate employment work.

When he decided to make the move from K&L Gates to Littler, Dowling said the leaders of his new firm told him that they had been trying to recruit him for 12 years.

“They all said ‘Don’s a rock star,’ and I’m not going to lie, I liked hearing that,” recalled Dowling, explaining why he chose to switch firms after a rather extended period mulling about whether to make a move.

Littler’s transition from a national employment firm to a global legal giant helped convince Dowling that he was ready to jump to the firm. In May, Littler firm absorbed a 16-lawyer boutique in the U.K., a move that came after the firm acquired a French labor law specialist late last year and combined with Germany’s Vanguard in late 2015. Littler has also been busy building out its pan-American practice offerings, tapping new leadership in Panama in early June, its latest expansion initiative in the region.

“Not only have they conquered Americas, they are conquering Europe, and it’s only going up from here,” said Dowling, adding that his ability to play a more central role in Littler’s growth strategy helped clinch his decision to leave K&L Gates.

K&L Gates, which ushered in a new leadership team in late 2016, has experienced a large amount of partner turnover in recent years, but Dowling said his reasons for leaving the 1,810-lawyer firm were entirely personal.

“They say inside they have a lot of turnover but the firm size stays the same,” Dowling said of K&L Gates, citing his former firm’s lack of institutional clients and relatively young age—it has gone through a series of mergers in recent years—as potentially contributing to the partnership’s perpetual revolving door.

K&L Gates trimmed its nonequity partnership ranks in 2015 and earlier this year shed some staffers in several of its offices, a move that came after longtime chairman Peter Kalis stemmed aside from leadership. Dowling was one of many K&L Gates partners that stayed at the firm despite the recent tumult—one that included a $210 million windfall from a massive patent infringement settlement—and he did not take issue with Kalis’ leadership.

“Kalis was such an institutional leader,” Dowling said. “I wanted him to continue to lead, but that being said, when they proposed [new global managing partner James Segerdahl and management committee chairman Michael Caccese], I was comfortable that they were a very good leadership team. In some respects, I felt it was good new blood. I felt that they would be as good or maybe better than Kalis.”

K&L Gates has been busy offsetting some of its partner departures with several new hires this year. Last week the firm recruited Neil Smith, a former head of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act unit, as a partner in Boston.

As for Littler, Dowling’s new firm snagged Seyfarth Shaw labor and employment partner Gary Glaser last month for its office in Melville, New York.