The Firms

June 18, 2009 4:47 PM

Greenberg Traurig Is Hungry for New Partners

Posted by Nate Raymond

RosenblaumGreenberg Traurig is on shopping spree.

Always one for recruiting partners away from rivals, the 1,750-lawyer firm this year already has hired almost as many lateral partners as it did in all of 2008. The latest get: former Mayer Brown vice chairman Paul Maher, who will establish a London operation for the firm.

Since January, Greenberg has recruited 45 lateral partners, compared with the 51 hired in all of 2008. And the firm has no plans to slow down. Maher says he hopes to grow the London outfit, called Greenberg Traurig Maher, to 100 lawyers within three years.

Richard Rosenbaum (pictured above, right), a Greenberg president who will succeed Cesar Alvarez as CEO in January, credits the hiring spree to the firm's solid financial performance despite the current economy.

The firm has "not been untouched" by the downturn, Rosenbaum concedes. (Revenue growth in 2008 was flat at $1.2 billion, while profits per partner inched up slightly to $1.31 million, according to the American Lawyer's most recent Am Law 100 survey.) "But we certainly finished 2008 in a stronger position than it appears many others have," he says.

"Because of the environment and the uncertainly in the market and the uncertainly at many other firms, we have seen a number of really high quality strategic hires that we've been able to make," Rosenbaum says.

In October the Miami-based firm took over the White Plains office of Thacher, Proffitt & Wood, two months before Thacher dissolved. Among those who joined was Thacher's vice chairman, Thomas Leslie.

In January, Greenberg hired Bruce Zirinsky, the $1,050-an-hour former bankruptcy chief at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, who soon after was joined by three of the firm's partners and four associates. Cadwalader, under pressure from the credit crisis, saw revenues fall 13.8 percent to $506 million in 2008. Profits per partner declined 30 percent to $1.88 million.

In February, Greenberg picked up three securities litigators in Austin, Texas, from Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Field, including  Paul Bessette, the head of Akin's securities litigation group. That group followed three other former Akin partners, who opened Greenberg's Austin office in August. Last year Akin Gump  was deep into a restructuring that prompted dozens of partners to leave.

Greenberg gained Maher after shakeups at Mayer Brown, which saw an 11 percent drop in profits per partner last year. Following a management overhaul, Maher was left off Mayer Brown's new six-member management committee and a 12-member partnership board.

Maher's decision to join Greenberg is ironic because of the firm's aversion to mergers. At Mayer Brown, he played a key role in its 2002 merger with Rowe & Maw and was the firm's primary negotiator for its merger with JSM in Asia in 2007. He also argued unsuccessfully for Mayer Brown to merge with Heller Ehrman, which dissolved in September. ("I thought it was a good deal," he says. "I'm on record about that, ask any of the ex-partners.")

Greenberg Traurig has grown largely through lateral hires. That's because of the firm's commitment to meritocracy, where everyone feels respected and empowered, Rosenbaum says, a hard thing to do "if you have to deal with the politics and other issues that go into a merger."

After going through three mergers, Maher agrees. "You get a whole set of benefits by doing a merger, but you inherit a whole set of issues, and culture and integration are the two biggest issues," he says.

Still, Greenberg does not appear totally opposed to mergers. It came close to merging with Kummer Kaempfer Bonner Renshaw & Ferrario in Las Vegas earlier this year. But partners in the firm's prominent state government affairs practice opposed the union, saying  they couldn't see why their regional practice needed an international law firm partner, says Kummer Kaempfer managing partner Robert Gronauer. "It was a basic philosophical disagreement," he says. Instead, Greenberg picked up more than a dozen Kummer Kaempfer lawyers in June, including founding partners Thomas Kummer and Michael Bonner.

Europe now stands to become Greenberg's next big hiring push. Maher says in addition to hiring in London he may also be recruiting partners in Germany, France, and Russia.

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