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October 9, 2008 2:51 PM

Heller: Going, Going, Gone

Posted by Francesca Heintz

Heller Ehrman lawyers must be sick of goodbye parties by now. Since the firm announced its dissolution on September 26--and throughout its failed merger talks with Baker & McKenzie and Mayer Brown in the weeks beforehand--a steady stream of Heller lawyers have moved on as the West Coast firm falls apart.

Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe is the latest beneficiary of the 118-year-old firm's dissolution, picking up 27 partners, one senior counsel, and an undetermined number of associates, as announced today. Most of the lawyers had formed Heller's antitrust group, including former Heller chair Bob Rosenfeld and Larry Popofsky, a Heller cochair from 1988 to 1993. Another former Heller chair Barry Levin joins Orrick's Insurance Recovery practice. They'll all move into Orrick's San Francisco office.

And there's no time to waste. Rosenfeld, who says the decision was made earlier this week, expects to be "firmly ensconced" at Orrick tomorrow. When news of the dissolution broke, Rosenfeld picked up the phone and made some calls to firms he'd worked with in the past, asking if they might have a place for him and others in the group. Orrick was one of the firms on the list.

As for why Baker and Winston & Strawn withdrew proposals to pick up large groups of Heller lawyers, Rosenfeld says he's not sure. But, as Am Law Daily sibling publication The Recorder reported Wednesday, he believes much of it has to do with Heller partners striking out on their own or in smaller groups.

"I think the process of individuals or groups going out and looking for opportunities made it more difficult to coordinate those large possibilities or transactions," says Rosenfeld. And he notes that, so far, Heller lawyers have met with great success: "An overwhelming majority have found positions or are hot on the trail of finding positions, and it's happened very, very quickly."

Over the past several months, ever since The American Lawyer reported on the firm's troubles in its May issue, we've kept track of these moves. Here's a roundup of what's come across our desk to date:

Sheppard Mullin scooped up four litigation and tax partners from Heller's San Francisco office on October 10. The firm had tapped Blaine Templeman in August to start the firm's new Biotech Clinical Contracting team.

Cooley Godward Kronish picked up 35 lawyers from Heller's Venture Law Group on October 6. The Recorder reported that the group will finally lose the distinct brand it retained even after being acquired by Heller in 2003. Mark Medearis, who cofounded the group in 1993, and Mark Weeks, who headed Heller's business department, are leading the group.

Arnold & Porter
added five litigators to its business litigation and antitrust group this week, including Kenneth Chernoff, who was cochair of Heller's complex commercial litigation practice.

Covington & Burling took on 50 lawyers October 1 as part of a significant expansion in its IP litigation practice. Covington will use some of Heller's West Coast heavyweights to open new offices in Silicon Valley and San Diego. Robert Haslam will spearhead the launch of the Valley office, and former Heller-ites Alan Blankenheimer, Laura Muschamp, and Jo Dale Carothers will get the San Diego office up and running. (Covington also landed Heller insurance partners David Goodwin and Lawrence Hobel back in July.)

Eversheds scooped up Nick Seddon in late September to head the firm's new Hong Kong office, which is slated to open this month.

Proskauer Rose
in September launched two new Asia offices, in Hong Kong and Beijing, with the help of former Heller partners Ying Li, who led the China Business practice, and Joseph Cha, who led Heller's Beijing office.

Jones Day also took on a few Heller defectors in the days leading up to the dissolution. Martin Myers and Brent Cohen, who headed Heller's real estate practice, joined Jones Day's San Francisco office.

Bingham McCutchen landed Heller bigwig Geoffrey Aronow in August. Aranow was the managing parter of Heller's Washington, D.C., office and joined Bingham's securities practice. (We wrote about the move this summer.)

Howrey got in the game early, taking on veteran Heller litigator Paul Alexander back in May.

So, did we miss anybody? Send your news to amlawdaily@alm.com.

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FYI, there have been no goodbye parties in this sinking ship. And I doubt there will be any.

the departing shareholders (besides the madison office) have been singularly greedy and unhelpful. my guess is that most law firms would crumble in similar ways, with the "every man for himself" attitude guiding everything, but heller held itself out to be a different sort of place. enjoy your sloppy millions, pigs.

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