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August 25, 2008 5:00 PM

Mayer Brown Restructuring Chief Defects for Orrick

Posted by Brian Baxter

A rough 18 months for Mayer Brown got a little worse on Monday, when San Francisco's Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe announced that Raniero "Ron" D'Aversa, Jr., the cochair of Mayer's restructuring and bankruptcy practice, would join Orrick immediately.

Considered a rising star of the bankruptcy bar, the 44-year-old D'Aversa--whose book of business is said to exceed $5 million by sources familiar with his work and reputation--will be based out of Orrick's New York office. The firm placed 27th in this year's Am Law 100 rankings with gross revenues of $772 million and profits per equity partner of $1.7 million.

"We had been pursuing Ron off and on for probably a year, and a lot of his clients are the same kinds that we have, particularly in finance," says Roger Frankel, the chairman of Orrick's creditors' rights and bankruptcy group. "It's clear that there will be significant clients moving with him, and we think with [Ron] we'll be able to broaden that to do work for them in the creditors' rights and restructuring areas."

Frankel declined to identify particular client names, noting that the process of moving clients over was "ongoing."

Mayer disputed that assertion in a statement released by the firm, which said that Mayer "is working to assure a seamless transition of client matters, and no disruption of any client relationships is expected."

The firm, which placed ninth in this year's Am Law 100 rankings with gross revenues of nearly $1.2 billion and profits per equity partner of $1.24 million, did wish D'Aversa well in his future endeavors. (Chairman James Holzhauer did not respond to a specific request for comment.)

But D'Aversa's departure caps a tough past year and a half for Mayer. The 1,423-lawyer firm famously de-equitized 45 partners in March 2007 and subsequently underwent a controversial management change as key partners fled the firm. (In addition to Holzhauer, vice chairmen Paul Maher and Kenneth Geller have also taken firm leadership roles.)

It's been a far different story for 902-lawyer Orrick, which has aggressively pursued strategic lateral hires. In April, the San Francisco-based firm recruited former Hunton & Williams corporate restructuring and insolvency head Mark Fennessy for its London office. Frankel would not reveal some of the details of today's announced hire, but several Mayer associates are expected to join D'Aversa at Orrick as well, say sources familiar with the move.

Orrick has been focused on boosting its bankruptcy and creditors' rights group to match the size and stature of its finance practice. The firm knew it had to be in the major financial markets in order to do so, Frankel says, so it set its sights on laterals like Fennessy and D'Aversa.

"It wouldn't help us to bring in somebody with a big debtor practice, because we're not going to have [such] a practice," Frankel says. "We needed to find somebody that represented financial institutions and other kinds of funds in order to have it work with our practice, and Ron's reputation preceded him."

The move is the latest among Am Law 200 firms growing their restructuring groups in anticipation of a wave of bankruptcy filings stemming from the tightening of the credit markets. As previously reported here, and in sibiling publication The American Lawyer, and as Frankel acknowledges, the hoped-for wave has yet to crest.

"I certainly think there is a lot more talk about it than there is activity," he says. "On the other hand, we've been busy, Ron has been very busy, and if a wave comes, we'll be more ready for it than we ever were before."

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