James Wagstaffe. (Photo: Jason Doiy / ALM)

Prominent San Francisco litigation shop Kerr & Wagstaffe didn’t survive to see 2019. But a reconstituted boutique is relaunching with four partners, as the rest of the firm’s lawyers strike out on their own.

After nearly two decades, Kerr & Wagstaffe officially shut its doors on Nov. 30. Following the departures of four attorneys, the four remaining partners, James Wagstaffe, Michael von Loewenfeldt, Frank Busch and Maria Radwick launched Wagstaffe, von Loewenfeldt, Busch & Radwick on Dec. 1 to continue representing clients in high-stakes trial and appellate litigation.

“You have a lease that ends, and it was an expensive building, so it causes people to think about what they want in the next 10 to 20 years,” said Wagstaffe, who co-founded Kerr & Wagstaffe with retired partner H. Sinclair “Rod” Kerr  Jr. in 1999. “I like the idea of a small, agile, nimble law firm.”

According to Wagstaffe, partners Ivo Labar and Adrian Sawyer are spinning off to start their own firm. Associate Dan Veroff joined Florida’s Merlin Law Group, and associate Aalia Taufiq,  joined Los Angeles-based Nossaman. Meanwhile, associate Melissa Perry is moving away from San Francisco, Wagstaffe said.

Wagstaffe said he and his partners at newly-formed WVBR are expecting to maintain the approach that Kerr & Wagstaffe followed for many years.

“It is the same size as when I started the firm in 1999. We continue to have a small boutique firm,” he said, noting the new venture following the original model will be “a very efficient firm with extraordinary good lawyers.”

Wagstaffe and partner von Loewenfeldt recently argued at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to uphold an $11 million verdict in favor of Bio-Rad Laboratories Inc.’s whistleblowing former general counsel, Sanford Wadler. Partner von Loewenfeldt also recently represented The Commission on Judicial Performance in attempts to keep records from disciplinary proceedings out of the hands of the state auditor and served a lead attorney for iPhone users in a privacy lawsuit against app developers.

“We are kind of like a multijeweled crown,” said Wagstaffe, describing WVBR’s capabilities. The new firm’s primary practice areas include complex commercial litigation, appellate law, intellectual property, First Amendment issues or defamation, government law and trust litigation.

The new firm has offices in the Financial District at 100 Pine St., less than a quarter-mile from Kerr & Wagstaffe’s space at 101 Mission St.

As the rent in the Bay Area continues to rise, Wagstaffe said he intends to maintain a relatively small footprint. “For me, I have always liked a smaller firm,” said Wagstaffe, who is 62 years old, adding that he hoped to continue practicing law for another 30 years. He was recently reappointed as board chair of the Federal Judicial Center Foundation.

Wagstaffe’s practice focuses on complex litigation, professional and governmental representation, will and trust disputes, legal ethics and First Amendment matters. He is also the author of “The Wagstaffe Group Practice Guide: Federal Civil Procedure Before Trial,” published by LexisNexis.