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July 7, 2009 7:00 PM

Dewey Raids Cooley for Three Corporate Bigwigs

Posted by Brian Baxter

Updated at 7:00 p.m., July 7

The cream of Cooley Godward Kronish's corporate practice is leaving for Dewey & LeBoeuf.

Sibling publication The Recorder reports that Cooley M&A chair Richard Climan, M&A partner Keith Flaum, and technology transactions head Eric Reifschneider will join Dewey's office in East Palo Alto, Calif., in a move that seems like an "earthquake" to lawyers and recruiters in the Golden State.

"You're ripping out the core of that corporate practice when you're doing that," legal recruiter Alan Miles told The Recorder. "Climan and Flaum together control a lot of business."

Climan Climan (at right) was named an Am Law Daily Dealmaker of the Week in March for his role advising Gilead Sciences on its $1.4 billion acquisition of CV Therapeutics. Climan also chaired the ABA's committee on M&A from 2002 to 2006. Flaum was named a Dealmaker of the Year by The American Lawyer in 2006 for his role on 15 deals with a combined value of $16 billion.

A member of Cooley's management committee, Climan told The Recorder that the trio's decision to defect to Dewey wasn't grounded in any dissatisfaction with their old firm. (Both Climan and Flaum will have management roles at Dewey.)

"We weren't looking to leave Cooley--it's a fantastic firm, it has matured significantly since we arrived, and our practices have thrived at Cooley," said Climan, who declined to comment on whether other attorneys would join them. "Dewey with its global platform is simply a better fit for us at this stage in our careers."

Dewey, which confirmed the lateral moves in a press release issued late Tuesday, has struggled to build a presence in Silicon Valley. The New York firm generally represents banks and large national corporations, while Cooley has stuck to its Silicon Valley roots advising start-ups and tech companies. But the Cooley hires would seem to put an end to Dewey's troubles branching out from Wall Street to the West Coast.

"Obviously they're highly considered M&A lawyers--some of the preeminent ones in the Bay Area," Morrison & Foerster M&A partner Robert Townsend told The Recorder. "It's certainly a loss for Cooley
. . . I wish them luck building a franchise for Dewey."

Added veteran Latham & Watkins corporate partner Alan Mendelson: "I wouldn't have predicted it. I think it's a coup for Dewey and a big blow for Cooley."

For its part, Cooley is taking the departures in stride. A Cooley spokeswoman told The Recorder that while the firm would miss its three corporate stalwarts, it still had 90 M&A and technology transactions lawyers dedicated to the firm's domestic and international clients.

According to Am Law 100 financial data, Dewey had profits per equity partner of $1.5 million last year, compared with $1.42 million for Cooley. Despite that fact, The Am Law Daily revealed in March that 66 of Dewey's 350 partners had their compensation cut by as much as 80 percent as part of a plan to eliminate underperforming partners.

So why did Climan and company decamp for Dewey?

Latham's Mendelson told The Recorder that he suspects the Cooley trio "wanted to move up the food chain and do bigger deals" and that Dewey was a logical destination because "some of the other firms from New York are much less receptive to taking lateral partners."

The three lawyers joined Cooley between 1994 and 1996. Climan told The Recorder that Dewey had been after the group for awhile, but talks heated up within the last month. The laterals gave their notice to Cooley on Tuesday and expect to join Dewey by next month.

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