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The level of law firm activity in mergers and acquisitions and lateral hiring remains very high. With some fits and starts, New Jersey did see its share of newsworthy moves in 2018. Some moves, however, grabbed more attention than others, and in the process captured some of the prevailing themes of business-of-law coverage in the Garden State: The importance of personal relationships, and the need to plan for the future.

Return to Newark

In a move that he said at the time was motivated by finding a firm with a commitment to New Jersey, litigator James Tyrrell in February brought his products liability and mass tort practice group from the Morristown office of Locke Lord to Sills, Cummis & Gross in Newark, where he became co-chairman the firm’s mass tort practice. Making the move with him were George Talarico, Elissa Glasband, Eric Westenberger and Patrick Gilmartin, who all joined Sills as partners.

Tyrrell, whose moves around the Big Law world have been well-documented, had been co-chairman of Locke Lord’s product liability group. He previously held management positions at Latham & Watkins, Patton Boggs and Edwards Wildman.

Tyrrell said in a recent interview that the transition to Sills has gone well, especially the ability of he and his group to share work and rainmaking opportunities alike.

“I’ve been at a number of law firms,” Tyrrell said, and Sills “has been very good in allowing me to join client opportunities.” He added, “It’s a two-way street,” with the new products group referring corporate and bankruptcy work to Sills colleagues, and using existing Sills associates and paralegals to do work on the matters they brought into the firm.

Tyrrell noted that he has been brought in on numerous client pitches with other partners, including to a pharmaceutical that has since retained Sills to handle litigation matters, though he declined to name the company. Others from the Locke Lord group have gotten similar opportunities at Sills as well, he said.

“My people would not have met these folks but for the members of Sills giving us that opportunity,” Tyrrell said.

The connection, as it turned out, went back years. At the time of the move, Tyrrell and Sills managing partner R. Max Crane recalled years earlier bumping into one another at One Riverfront Plaza in Newark, which houses the firm.

And Crane made at least one previous offer to take on Tyrrell’s practice group, in 2013, when Tyrrell was looking to make a move with Patton Boggs’ Newark shop shuttering.

The move happened, but not until 2018.

‘Never really left’

Another 2018 move involved reuniting with familiar faces. When Jeffrey O’Hara brought his group, 11 lawyers including himself, from LeClairRyan to Connell Foley’s Newark office, it was characterized by him and others on the Connell Foley side as a homecoming: O’Hara began his career at Connell in 1993 and stayed until he brought his group to Clyde & Co. in 2010, then to LeClairRyan’s Newark office in 2014. O’Hara said at the time of the February 2018 move that he “never really left” Connell Foley.

Joining O’Hara were partners Matthew Bauer, Laura Breitenbach, Catherine Bryan, Bryan Couch and Matthew Schultz; of counsel Patrick During; and associates Perri Koll, Kelly Krug, Joseph Megariotis and Justin Vogel. The additions pushed Connell Foley’s firmwide attorney head count to the 140-lawyer mark.

O’Hara in a recent interview said the transition since that time has been “seamless.” He said Connell Foley offered not only a familiar setting, but opportunities for other lawyers in his group to get on leadership trajectories.

“The reason we came back is for that very point,”  he said.

So far, that plan seems to be panning out. All the attorneys who joined in the move have stayed, with the exception of Schultz, who earlier this year took an in-house position with a client, Schindler Elevator Corp. O’Hara said he supported Schultz’s move, which he called “the ultimate compliment for outside counsel.” Schultz couldn’t be reached by phone.

Also since the February move, Connell has added two partners to what O’Hara called his “peripheral group” in the firm’s New York office: Abigail Rossman and Margot Wilensky.

And one member of O’Hara’s team, Breitenbach, was elevated to partner contemporaneously with the move to Connell Foley.

“For us, it’s an ideal environment,” O’Hara said.

‘Looking toward the future’

Another 2018 move was motivated by providing career opportunities for the younger members of the group: When Morristown litigation boutique Graham Curtin split up, 20 of its 28 attorneys moved to McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter, also in Morristown.

The younger attorneys at Graham Curtin “were looking towards … the future” and “didn’t want to see gray hairs all the time,” firm founder Thomas Curtin told the Law Journal at the time of the move. “It would have been nice to continue the way we were, but it just didn’t make sense with the economics of today,” Curtin added.

“It’s been a good transition,” Curtin said in a recent interview. “I think there’s been a very good integration of lawyers. … It’s not as if there [is] an old Graham Curtin section [in the McElroy Deutsch office].”

The Graham Curtin group has stayed on since the move, with the exception of counsel Patrick Collins, who left for Skoloff & Wolfe in Livingston in order to focus on matrimonial work, according to Curtin. Collins couldn’t be reached for comment.

The setting is different. Meetings, for example, are more formal because of the size of the organization—McElroy Deutsch has roughly 10 times the number of lawyers that Graham Curtin did—and “one of the big challenges here is getting to know everybody,” Curtin said.

But “it’s been a good move for us” because the Graham Curtin lawyers “have been able to move to a bigger platform,” he said.

That applies to Curtin himself, who has been significantly involved in rainmaking efforts and has been able to leverage his new firm’s size and practice mix, he said.

“Because of the practice areas here, I’m able to at least introduce other lawyers at the firm to potential clients,” Curtin said.

He added, ”This is my 50th year [of law practice]. I know my way around, and know people.”

‘Not something we take lightly’

The lawyers of Trenk DiPasquale Della Fera & Sodono know their way around too, and, in a more recent move, joined McManimon, Scotland & Baumann in Roseland as of Oct. 1, bringing 15 lawyers to the latter firm. Nearly all Trenk DiPasquale lawyers joined in the move, though Trenk DiPasquale name partner Joseph DiPasquale took his bankruptcy and corporate practice to Lowenstein Sandler.

McManimon Scotland chairman Joseph P. Baumann Jr. said at the time of the move: “It’s not something we’ve ever done before. It’s not something we take lightly.” He noted that each firm’s lawyers had been familiar with one another for years, and had referred work and shared clients. Trenk DiPasquale did more litigation work, while McManimon Scotland came into the deal heavier on the transactional side.

Going private

Another element of 2018 was the transition from one governor’s administration to another: Republican Chris Christie wrapped up his eight years in office as Democrat Phil Murphy was sworn in. That left a number of lawyers available on the lateral market, including some of Christie’s closest advisers.

Early in January 2018, Christopher Porrino, who had advised Christie in three positions over the years, including as state attorney general since August 2016, rejoined Lowenstein Sandler in Roseland as partner and litigation department chairman. Joining Porrino in the move was First Assistant Attorney General Peter Slocum. Later, another former member of Porrino’s team, Elie Honig, New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice director for five years, joined them at Lowenstein as well. “When you get to this point in your career, doing what you want to do for a living with people you want to be with makes a difference,” Porrino previously told the Law Journal.

Also heading to private practice was Christie’s lieutenant governor of eight years, Kim Guadagno, who ran unsuccessfully against Murphy as the Republican candidate in New Jersey’s 2017 gubernatorial election. She moved to Connell Foley as of May 1. Guadagno became a member of four Connell Foley practice groups: corporate and business law, white-collar criminal defense, commercial litigation, and corporate compliance and internal investigations. She said at the time of the move: ”I know that my years of experience at the state and federal levels, along with my deep involvement in the business community, will empower clients and contribute to Connell Foley’s continued growth.”