Duane Morris remains hungry for market share in Texas, most recently bringing on two Austin partners from a locally based firm, while it also continues growth across the Atlantic, hiring an IP partner in London.
Tracy McCreight and Benton Wheatley became partners in Duane Morris’ 16-month-old Austin office last week, joining the firm’s trial practice group. They came from Munsch Hardt Kopf & Harr, a Texas midsize firm where Wheatley was head of the Austin office.
Wheatley works exclusively on construction-related dispute resolution and transactions, while McCreight’s practice is split between construction-related matters and broader commercial litigation. The Austin office has also hired an associate, Meredith Mills Gregston, in its trial practice group, from Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart.
Also Monday, Duane Morris announced that it hired IP partner John Benjamin in London. Benjamin came from DWF LLP, where he was a leader in the firm’s data protection and cybersecurity practice.
In a statement announcing Benjamin’s hire, Duane Morris IP practice chair L. Norwood Jameson highlighted “his knowledge of data privacy and the [General Data Protection Regulation], which will be an immense benefit especially to our clients that have business interests or customers in Europe.”
The latest Austin additions bring that location to 11 lawyers. Thomas Sankey, managing partner of the Austin and Houston offices, said the firm is planning to continue growth in Texas, and has an eye on opportunities to open in Dallas.
“We want to grow it strategically so it mirrors the other practice groups of the firm,” Sankey said. “We’ve been, I think, wildly successful in that Austin market.”
Wheatley and McCreight together bring about $2 million of business to Duane Morris, they said. Their construction clients include Flintco and KBR Inc., Wheatley said. McCreight said she’s also bringing ongoing commercial litigation, including some partnership disputes, an open records challenge and a real estate breach of contract matter.
Wheatley said he and McCreight liked the idea of joining a firm that is focused on growing in Texas, but also has an established construction practice on both coasts and in Chicago. He said he plans to continue practicing law for another 10 to 12 years, and saw Duane Morris as a firm where the generation below him, which includes McCreight, was building “an incredible foundation.” He also noted that he has done international work in the past, and sees opportunities to pursue that again at Duane Morris.
“It’s my plan for this to be my last stop in law firms,” McCreight added. “I can see the next 20 years being just an incredible growth opportunity.”
Their former firm, Munsch Hardt, is smaller than Duane Morris in terms of head count and geography. According to its website, it currently has 118 lawyers across its offices in Houston, Dallas and Austin.
“Just sitting there looking at the trends and what firms have been successful in terms of building a bigger national footprint, it seemed like the Texas firms have really struggled in that regard, for whatever reason,” Wheatley said. Duane Morris, he said, seems to have “cracked the code on how to work in different markets.”
Still, he noted, “it was hard to leave Munsch Hardt.”
In a statement Monday, Munsch Hardt CEO Phil C. Appenzeller Jr. said, ““Tracy and Ben are both talented attorneys, and we wish them well at their new firm.”
DWF did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Benjamin’s departure. Ogletree also did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Gregston’s departure.