Connell Foley’s return to Newark continues to be eventful, most recently with the addition of 11 litigators from LeClairRyan’s branch in the city.
The move, effective Monday, was led by trial attorney Jeffrey O’Hara. Joining him are 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, according to a release.
Several, including O’Hara, previously launched their careers at Connell Foley.
“I never really left Connell Foley. I moved my body and my team,” O’Hara said in an interview. “Every other facet of my professional personality and style”—aside from what he learned from his father, a solo practitioner—”came from being taught … at the firm,” O’Hara added.
The 11-lawyer group, which brings new clients and cases to Connell Foley, handles high-profile catastrophic loss cases, often as national trial counsel. Among its clients, according to O’Hara, is Walmart, in connection with the 2014 New Jersey Turnpike accident that injured actor Tracy Morgan.
The group had been away from the firm since 2010, when O’Hara led his then-six attorney team to London-based Clyde & Co., which at the time was seeking to build a U.S. practice, he said Monday, calling the move ”an opportunity to do something at a very different level.” In January 2014, O’Hara’s group, by then 10 attorneys, left for LeClair’s Newark office, seeking a firm with a bigger U.S. footprint.
Philip McGovern Jr., managing partner of Roseland-based Connell Foley, said the firm’s Newark office, with space for about 25 lawyers, is now fully occupied. The additions push Connell Foley’s firmwide attorney head count to the 140-lawyer mark.
“It’s always nice to grow your revenue base, and when you can do it with known entities … it’s a very good combination,” McGovern said by phone. “In our business, being around a bunch of people you like is a big plus.”
McGovern also attributed the hires to “a continued eye toward our commitment to Newark.”
“We see the opportunity there,” he said. “It’s another step in that direction.”
Connell Foley opened an office in Newark—the city of its 1938 founding—in June 2015. Eighteen attorneys spun off about a year later to form Walsh Pizzi O’Reilly Falanga, after which Connell Foley added nine lawyers to the Newark branch from dissolving Podvey, Meanor, Catenacci, Hildner, Cocoziello & Chattman.
It’s been an equally eventful time for LeClairRyan, which began in Richmond, Virginia, and expanded into Newark a decade ago with the acquisition of 45-lawyer Seiden Wayne. The departures of O’Hara and company leave LeClairRyan’s Newark attorney head count at 33, according to its website. That number stood at 57 as of May 2016, after the firm added eight bankruptcy attorneys from dissolving Paramus firm Forman Holt Eliades & Youngman. January 2016 is when O’Hara’s group joined. Last October, LeClair acquired Newark-based workers’ compensation boutique Pizzo & Haman. Firmwide, the firm has about 325 lawyers in 26 offices.
Joseph P. Paranac Jr., of LeClairRyan’s Newark office, said in an email: “We wish Jeff O’Hara and his colleagues well. … While you never want good lawyers to leave, we are focused on our growth strategy and are actively seeking attorneys whose clients will benefit from the varied practices and geographic reach of LeClairRyan.”
For O’Hara, 52, a return to Connell Foley has been on the table for some time, as he kept in touch with his former partners there.
“Phil McGovern has talked to me every week for the last eight and a half years,” O’Hara said. “It’s just time. We as a group uniformly believed it was time.”
McGovern said serious talks to that effect began around mid-2017.
O’Hara began his career at Connell Foley in September 1993, after clerking for Virginia Long, then a judge on the Appellate Division.
He said the group’s recent decision to return, amid offers over the years from other suitors he declined to name, “wasn’t a hard decision.”
O’Hara’s notable engagements in recent years have included Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. in a product liability case claiming a tire defect caused a crash that left a motorist paralyzed—Malik v. Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., which settled confidentially in 2015. More recently, he represented the homeowners’ interests in a dog bite case, lodged by a home health care worker who claimed he sustained nerve damage to his hand when he was bit during a visit to the home, that settled last September for $1.75 million.
Of the group’s time at LeClair, O’Hara said, “We parted as friends.”