Vinson & Elkins' office sign Vinson & Elkins’ offices in Washington, D.C. Photo by Diego Radzinschi

In one of the largest lateral group departures from Kasowitz Benson Torres, 15 real estate transactional lawyers are leaving the litigation firm to join Vinson & Elkins, a major expansion for the Texas-based firm’s footprint in New York.

The announcement, made by Vinson & Elkins on Monday morning, comes just over a week after ALM reported that New York-based partners Wallace Schwartz, Adam Endick and Julia Sanabria were poised to make the move. Their new firm said that they will be joined by nine associates, three counsel and three paralegals.

A V&E representative said the counsel joining the firm from Kasowitz are Sander Ash, Marlene Guzzino and Francesca Venezia. The associates joining V&E include Stephanie Felix, Shane Goodhue, Elisha Lerner, Christy Mazzola, Jason Robinson, Abram Seaman-Baldaro, Steven Shafer, Michael Svetich and Tyler Vinal.

Schwartz said in an interview that he had nothing but good things to say about his time at the Kasowitz firm. But Vinson & Elkins gave his team an opportunity to work with other transactional groups that simply didn’t exist at the Kasowitz firm, he said, and an opportunity to cross-sell services to old and new clients.

“It was never part of their plan [at Kasowitz] to expand into other transactional groups,” Schwartz said. “At this point in our practice, we really need support from groups like tax and [real estate investment trusts] and private equity, environmental, labor-employment — I could go on and on. That’s what Vinson & Elkins has to offer us.”

For Vinson & Elkins, the addition of the Kasowitz group amounts to significant growth of its New York office, which listed 65 attorneys online as of Monday morning. Cliff Thau, who co-leads V&E’s New York office, said in a statement that he was “committed to strategically expanding here and across the firm.”

Schwartz, who was a co-managing partner at the Kasowitz firm, said V&E had about 20 attorneys, most of them in Texas, who did similar work to what his team from Kasowitz did.

The announcement by Vinson & Elkins comes in the wake of last year’s statement by the firm that it had been eyeing New York, among other markets, for expansion. Firm chairman Mark Kelly said the firm was hiring lawyers for its private equity, finance, leveraged finance, corporate and capital markets practices

Meanwhile, the moves mark another group exit at Kasowitz in recent years, after the departures of key people from insurance recovery and matrimonial law groups. From 2013 to 2018, the firm’s head count has fallen from 372 to 258.

It’s unclear what the full repercussions of the move will be for the Kasowitz firm, which acknowledged the partner departures when they were first reported but said they would have no impact on its litigation focus.

Schwartz declined to say what amount of revenue his team was responsible for.

“We have always been focused on being the preeminent litigation firm in the nation, and the departure of this transactional group has no impact on that core strength or our overall practice,” said managing partner Marc Kasowitz in a statement on March 29.

The Kasowitz firm has made some prominent lateral hires in the last year, including bringing on Kevin Arquit, a former Federal Trade Commission official who joined the firm earlier this year as a partner from Weil, Gotshal & Manges. Last year, Kasowitz Benson Torres opened an office in Aspen, Colorado, led by litigation partner David Bovino.

The firm did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment Monday on the 15-attorney group move to Vinson & Elkins.

The Kasowitz firm has touted the success of its real estate practice, noting on its website that it ranked among the top 10 firms in real estate transaction volume in New York City for each of the past two years. From July 2017 to June 2018, the group worked on deals valued at nearly $500 million, the firm’s website said.

And when Schwartz and Endick joined from Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in 2011, Marc Kasowitz was quoted in a press release as saying the firm had received “repeated requests … from our existing litigation clients” to offer real estate transactions services.