David Sergenian and John Pierce, of Pierce Sergenian. (handout)
Two Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan alumni have joined forces to launch a business litigation boutique in Los Angeles that models itself—to a degree—off of the attributes of the pair’s former Big Law employers.
John Pierce, who has had stops at Latham & Watkins and K&L Gates in the past three years, has teamed up with David Sergenian, who he first worked with on the Quinn Emanuel team representing money management firm Trust Company of the West in its legal battle against former star bond investor Jeffrey Gundlach. The two litigators said they plan to model their new firm, Pierce Sergenian, on Quinn Emanuel in ways big and small, from its pursuit of contingency fee arrangements to its casual dress code.
“It’s really hard to think of anything that Quinn Emanuel has not done right,” Pierce said. “I don’t think we have anything but good things to say about that firm. … [Founding partner John Quinn] has been extremely gracious in lending moral support for this endeavor. We’re going to lean on him and other partners there that we know very well, not only for referrals but for advice.”
After leaving Quinn Emanuel in 2014, Pierce spent two years as a partner at Latham & Watkins, followed by a short stint at K&L Gates last year, where he was touted as a big hire at a time when many lawyers were departing the firm. When Pierce left in May after just three months under unclear circumstances, a former K&L Gates partner called his departure “a tough one for the firm to swallow.”
“K&L Gates is without question one of the very solid and respected broadly-focused firms in the second half of the Am Law 100,” Pierce said Tuesday in a press release about the launch of Pierce Sergenian. “I continue to admire the firm very much.”
In August, Pierce accepted an in-house role at the Beverly Hills venture capital firm SGVC, where he’ll continue to serve as outside general counsel. Sergenian is leaving Glaser Weil Fink Howard Avchen & Shapiro, where he’s been a member of the firm’s litigation group since 2013.
In addition to following the path trod by Quinn Emanuel, there are aspects of the other firms Pierce and Sergenian have worked at that they hope to emulate, including Latham’s “managerial excellence” and the “pure litigation talent” at Glaser Weil, they said. But they also want to build a uniquely egalitarian firm.
“This is not to make any reference to the firms we’ve been at, but I think sometimes the practice of law has not been as fun as it can be,” Pierce said. “We want a culture where all the associates feel like they can make the winning argument.”
To make that happen, Pierce Sergenian plans to borrow an idea from yet another firm, Boies, Schiller & Flexner, and structure compensation for all of its lawyers the way compensation is structured for equity partners at most firms.
“We want everyone to have an ownership mentality,” Pierce said. “The numbers will move around in terms of percentages, but we want to reward people very directly for the revenue they bring, for the hours they bill, for contingency fee revenue. We want to have a model that removes the politics, the resentment, the infighting, the executive committee meetings that take a month.”
Pierce Sergenian is launching with three associates, all new law school graduates—one from New York University and two from the University of Southern California.
In another move that might attract younger, digital-savvy lawyers, Pierce Sergenian plans to replace internal email with more social collaborative tools like the group chat service Slack—an idea Pierce says came to him after he read retired U.S. Army General Stanley A. McChrystal’s leadership manual “Team of Teams,” which emphasizes the importance of networks.
“Like the Army Rangers, Pierce Sergenian will ‘Lead the Way,’” Pierce, a former Army man himself, wrote in the release announcing the firm’s launch.
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