Sedgwick isn’t the only law firm making news in bankruptcy court.
Archer Norris, a midsize California firm that filed for Chapter 11 protection in San Francisco on Aug. 22, has watched several partners, including its former leader, find new homes after officially ceasing to provide client services last month.
Douglas Straus, a commercial litigator who became managing partner of Archer Norris last year, has joined the Bay Area office of Los Angeles-based Buchalter as a partner. Straus, who declined to comment for this story, told The Recorder in mid-August that the roughly 70-lawyer Archer Norris would wind down its operations due to a downturn in business.
Joining Straus at Buchalter in San Francisco are three other former Archer Norris lawyers: environmental of counsel Peter McGaw and litigation associates Benjamin Ellis and Zachary Young. Straus and Young will work in Buchalter’s litigation group, while Young and McGaw will be part of the firm’s energy and natural resources practice.
Straus took over leadership of Archer Norris in March 2017 from former managing partner Eugene Blackard Jr. But in less than two years, Archer Norris was preparing to dissolve. In a bankruptcy court filing on Sept. 5, Archer Norris revealed the names of 11 equity partners who controlled 99.99 percent of the firm. All of those individuals, including Straus, each owned a 9.09 percent share of Archer Norris.
On Sept. 7, Archer Norris sought to retain Diamond McCarthy, a firm known for its work in the bankruptcies of fallen legal giants like Dewey & LeBoeuf, Dreier, Heller Ehrman and Howrey. Christopher Sullivan, managing partner of Diamond McCarthy’s San Francisco office since the latter absorbed his former firm in 2014, said in his application for employment in the Archer Norris matter that he is billing the bankrupt firm’s estate $650 per hour for his services.
Sullivan is working on the Archer Norris case with Diamond McCarthy partner Lesley Hawes ($595 per hour) and various junior partners and associates at the firm billing between $235 and $500 per hour. Earlier this year, Sullivan represented the liquidation administrator for now-defunct Heller Ehrman in a case before the California Supreme Court, which held that dissolved law firms are not entitled to a portion of unfinished business matters.
Court filings show that Diamond McCarthy has received a $25,000 retainer for its services in Archer Norris’ bankruptcy case. Thomas Willoughby, a name partner at Sacramento’s Felderstein Fitzgerald Willoughby & Pascuzzi who also had a role in the dissolution of Heller Ehrman, is billing the Archer Norris estate $495 per hour, according to court filings.
A list of Archer Norris’ 20 largest unsecured creditors reveals that the firm owes capital and deferred compensation to former partners Blackard, Christopher Harnett, Robert Hinton, Todd Jones, Limor Lehavi, Glenn Mau, Namvar Mokri, Richard Norris and Richard Vanis Jr. Several of those lawyers have now gone on to form California’s Mokri Vanis & Jones.
Other firms have also moved to hire former Archer Norris lawyers, including Am Law 100 firm Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, which announced last month that it would open an office in Walnut Creek after bringing aboard a six-lawyer team. The group includes former Archer Norris equity partners W. Eric “Ric” Blumhardt and Stephen Welch, special counsel Patrice Harper and associates A. Barclay “Clay” Byrnes, Jessica Pliner and Kirstin Wallace.
Welch served as chair of Archer Norris’ construction litigation practice, while Blumhardt headed the firm’s appellate team. Pliner, a former senior litigation associate at Archer Norris, and Harper will become partners at Lewis Brisbois. Pliner, Harper and Blumhardt will work out of Lewis Brisbois’ San Francisco office, while Byrnes, Wallace and Welch will reside in Walnut Creek.
Texas-based Thompson, Coe, Cousins & Irons brought on Archer Norris partners Robert Latham III and Michael Nebenzahl and associates Monica De Leon and Dianna Manukyan in Los Angeles, where the group advises personal injury and property liability issues. Fellow partner Michael Osborne, who joined Archer Norris in 2009 from Shook, Hardy & Bacon, has jumped to the San Francisco office of Cokinos Young. As a partner at that Texas-based firm, Osborne will handle work defending fraternities and sororities in high-profile disputes.
Other firms hiring from Archer Norris within the past few weeks include:
Best Best & Krieger: The Southern California-based firm has hired former Archer Norris equity partner Colin Coffey in Walnut Creek. Coffey spent nearly 35 years at Archer Norris, where he focused his practice on public health care law and regulation.
Burke, Williams & Sorensen: The California firm has picked up Archer Norris partner Edward Shaffer in Walnut Creek for its office in nearby Oakland. Shaffer came to Richmond-based Norris & Norris in 1992 and stayed with that firm through its 2000 merger with Walnut Creek-based Archer, McComas, Breslin, McMahon & Chritton, a combination that created Archer Norris. Shaffer, a former city planner and consultant, is experienced in evaluating land use regulations and processing development entitlements.
Clapp Moroney Vucinich Beeman Scheley: William Staples, another Archer Norris equity partner who served as head of the firm’s litigation group, has joined Clapp Moroney in Pleasanton. Staples spent more than two decades at Archer Norris, where he handled disputes for businesses, employers, manufacturers and their insurance carriers.
Horner Law Group: The Walnut Creek-based business and commercial real estate firm has hired Archer Norris of counsel Jon Tonsing. A former partner at the latter, Tonsing primarily focuses his practice on civil litigation, representing clients in a variety of business, commercial, contract, employment, professional liability and real estate matters.
Severson & Werson: The firm, which has offices in the Bay Area and Orange County, expanded its trial practice last month by bringing on three former Archer Norris equity partners. Sharon Collier, Nandor Krause and Kenneth “K.C.” Ward, all of whom have extensive trial expertise, will help Severson & Werson in that practice area, said its leader in a statement.
“Their arrival expands our capacity to handle complex matters for our clients, up to and through trial,” said co-managing partner Duane Geck. “The depth and breadth of their experience, particularly in high-stakes disputes, will strengthen our already-deep bench of trial attorneys and allow us to better serve our clients across all practice areas.”