Weil, Gotshal & Manges counsel Kevin Crews’ move to a new Dallas office for Kirkland & Ellis is on hold as his firm, in an unusual move, is holding him to a six-month notice provision that exists in its employment contract with counsel, The American Lawyer has confirmed.
Earlier this month, Kirkland announced that Crews was part of a six-lawyer team hired by the firm to launch in Dallas, but he remains listed on Weil’s website as a Dallas-based counsel. The five other partners named in the press release issued by Kirkland on July 11 have all been removed from their firms’ websites and added to Kirkland’s website.
As Crews attempts to extricate himself from Weil, he is now essentially on “garden leave” at the firm, several individuals told The American Lawyer. Crews gave his formal notice to Weil on June 12 and transitioned his work to other lawyers. He has informed the firm that he would not be taking on new matters as he awaits his move to Kirkland, sources said.
In a statement provided by a firm spokeswoman, Weil confirmed that its employment contract for counsel contains a mutual six-month notice period in order to be terminated. The firm agrees not to fire a counsel without six months’ notice, while counsel agree to provide six months’ notice before departing.
“In many cases in which a counsel wants to terminate the contract, the firm agrees to shorten the period where it is confident that clients and firm property would be protected,” Weil said in a statement provided to The American Lawyer. “The firm has not agreed to shorten the period in this instance, and we have advised the firm he is joining of our reasons.”
Media contacts at Kirkland declined to discuss the matter. Crews himself did not return multiple inquiries, but a lawyer who represents him, Nixon Peabody partner Tina Solis in Chicago, said he could not comment. Solis, who joined her current firm in early 2015 when it absorbed Ungaretti & Harris, a Windy City-based firm known for professional disputes prowess, handles unfair competition and trade secrets matters, as well as law firm professional responsibility concerns and “departure issues,” according to her Nixon Peabody biography page.
The six-month counsel termination provision at Weil has been in place since at least 2016, said one source, who added it is unrelated to Weil’s recent announcement that it would shorten its partnership track by two years, beginning in 2019. Still, sources said it is unusual for Weil to enforce the provision.
“If you are a senior associate and the firm comes to you with something like this, you are an absolute captive, signing off potentially six months of your professional life in order to stay with the firm,” said one legal recruiter, who declined to be named while speaking about internal firm contracts. “Obviously if you said you’re not interested, they would probably get rid of you.”
One source called the holding of Crews, who was promoted to counsel in Weil’s private equity group on Jan 1. of this year, “odd and vindictive,” and speculated that it occurred as retribution for Kirkland entering Dallas and the broader Texas market. (Kirkland’s Houston office opened in 2014.)
Kirkland has hired nearly 30 lawyers in Texas since March, according to ALM Intelligence. Those additions include at least two former Weil associates and one other former counsel at the firm, all of whom have officially joined Kirkland.
During that time frame, Kirkland has also hired lawyers in Texas from Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld; Baker Botts; Haynes and Boone; Holland & Knight; Jones Day; Latham & Watkins; Mayer Brown; Reed Smith; Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom; and White & Case, according to data gathered by ALM Intelligence.
Kirkland’s Texas hiring spree continued Monday with the formal addition of ex-Latham partner Sean Wheeler, a prolific transactional lawyer for the oil and gas industry who was named a Dealmaker of the Year by The American Lawyer in 2015.
Weil’s Dallas office has previously been the center of a somewhat similar situation in 2013, when Sidley Austin hired a slew of lawyers from the firm in the city. That group of nine partners, four counsel and 10 associates was said to have been delayed in its start at Sidley by about a month, and came as Weil embarked on a strategic overhaul of its operations.
Holdbacks, at least in Texas, are not unusual when it comes to lateral partners. In early May, Shearman & Sterling officially opened a Houston office after hiring a group of lawyers from several different firms, including Baker Botts, which enforced a 90-day hold on three former partners.