The group from Gardere includes real estate lawyers Cynthia Brotman Nelson, George Dunlap Jr., Kevin Kelley and Scott Tuthill, each of whom has joined Jackson Walker as partners, along with associates James Miers and Ben Whitehill. Trial lawyer Gabriela Rawlings also joined Jackson Walker as an associate, coming on board from Gruber Hail Johansen Shank in Dallas.
Kelley had previously served as chairman of the real estate practice at Gardere, while Nelson chaired the firm’s hospitality practice.
“We are privileged to have this exceptional group of lawyers join Jackson Walker,” said a statement from the firm’s managing partner, C. Wade Cooper. He added that the group brings unique experience and knowledge to Jackson Walker, which saw its gross revenue remain steady in 2017, although profits per partner dipped to $942,000.
Kelley, Dunlap and Tuthill acknowledged that the precise timing of their move was related to the union between Gardere and Foley & Lardner, both of which confirmed their tie-up talks late last year, but said they had been talking to Jackson Walker for some time.
“It was a better fit for my group and our clients,” Dunlap said. “It was a good time to make a split, given the fact that Gardere was basically going away.” Added Tuthill: “We had been talking with [Jackson Walker] for a while, but you don’t want to make two changes.”
Kelley, who practiced at Gardere for 32 years and served as head of the firm’s real estate group for more than a dozen years, said he was not in favor of the merger with Foley & Lardner and decided last fall that he would leave the firm. Kelley said he resigned from Gardere’s board about three months ago.
“We had a great group and we wanted to keep everybody together. The consensus of the group was to make a move and Jackson Walker has been fantastic,” said Kelley, noting that his team has many Texas clients and Jackson Walker’s huge presence in the state fits the practice. “From a real estate standpoint, we’ve got 65, 70 lawyers here at Jackson Walker. They’ve got a very deep bench.”
Kelley, whose clients include aviation giant American Airlines Group Inc., construction company D.R. Horton Inc. and real estate investor Forestar Group Inc., said that Jackson Walker’s culture and management helped attract his team to the firm. Dunlap added that Jackson Walker’s real estate resources, such as its strong land use practice, will help the group serve its clients.
When asked to comment on the lawyers who left Gardere to join Jackson Walker—and the loss of another 14-lawyer group for Husch Blackwell’s offices in Texas—Holland “Holly” O’Neill, who had been chairwoman of Gardere before the merger, said in a statement that departures are a “natural part” of any combination and occur for various reasons.
“We’re disappointed to see valued colleagues leave the firm, but respect their decision and wish them well. At the same time, we are confident this combination will position us as an attractive destination for future lateral hires,” said O’Neill, a member of the combined firm’s management committee, in a statement. “We are already seeing the attractiveness of our platform take hold through key lateral hires, like Craig Chick, and are in active discussions with additional laterals that we anticipate announcing in the coming weeks.”
Foley Gardere, as the new firm will be known in Colorado and Texas, announced Monday its addition of Chick, a founder of Capital Partners Consulting, as director of public affairs within its government solutions practice in Austin.
The Texas lateral market, which has been busy this year, was already overheated due to the departure of dozens of lawyers from Andrews Kurth Kenyon ahead of the latter’s merger with Hunton & Williams creating 1,000-lawyer Hunton Andrews Kurth.
The combination of Foley & Lardner and Gardere creates a 1,100-lawyer Am Law 100 firm with about $830 million in annual gross revenue.