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December 9, 2010 8:09 PM

The Lateral: Stephen Best Is Settling in at Brownstein Hyatt

Posted by Brian Baxter

BestSteven Stephen Best, the former cohead of the white-collar criminal defense and investigations practice at Dewey & LeBoeuf, is settling into a new firm. The veteran litigator joined 215-lawyer Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck in Washington, D.C., on December 1 as chair of the firm's white-collar defense and criminal investigations group.

In a phone interview with The Am Law Daily on Thursday, Best discussed some of the factors behind his departure from Dewey, where he had practiced for eight years. (Best is a legacy partner from LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae, which merged with Dewey Ballantine in September 2007.)

Naturally, there were the work opportunities, and, Best says, the potential synergies between his current practice and other areas covered by Brownstein Hyatt. An expert in white-collar defense, internal investigations, SEC enforcement, and FCPA work, Best specializes in keeping his clients out of jail and away from the clutches of securities regulators. He hopes to use that expertise to tap into new practice areas at Brownstein Hyatt.

"[The firm] has the top casino and gaming practice in the country and that's going to be very important going forward," Best says. "[Founding partner and chairman] Norm Brownstein is also an extraordinary business generator."

It was also important for Best to maintain a business relationship with his former partners at Dewey. In at least one high-profile matter, Best will continue to work with Dewey vice-chair Ralph Ferrara, who he describes as "extended family."

Best is leading the legal team from both firms representing Mark Cuban in the SEC's hard fought insider trading suit against the Dallas Mavericks owner. "I thought it would best serve Mark if we keep the team together as presently constituted," he says.

Earlier this month the SEC told Cuban to keep money that the media billionaire had offered up to expedite a review of records that could resolve the case. (A former member of Cuban's defense team, Dewey litigator Henry "Hank" Asbill, left the firm earlier this year for Jones Day.)

The Cuban case presents several challenges, but in one respect, it's a welcome change for Best, who has had his share of clients that would prefer to stay out of the media spotlight.

"I have the worst marketing job in the world," Best jokes. "That's why Cuban is such a wonderful client--he wants to be totally out front with it." (There are exceptions: Best briefly represented Tareq and Michaele Salahi, the infamous White House party crashers, earlier this year.)

Just one week into his new job, Best already is setting his sights on prospective new clients. He says he's been approached by at least one of the many individuals caught up in the current federal insider trading sting. Many of these people are not indemnified by their employers, he says, and, as such, don't have the resources to pay top defense lawyers.

"There's going to be a lot of pressure on them to cooperate with the government, more so than the senior executives of a company, because they can't afford the lawyering it will take to fight the government," Best says. Now, given his move to Brownstein Hyatt, Best can offer potential clients a more flexible rate structure, which might enable him to bring in some of the insider trading work.

"I'm finding that there is a need for that in this economy," says Best, adding that at "lots of national firms" he's seeing similar moves motivated in part by billing rates. "This will allow me to take on matters of interest that I may not have been able to take on before."

At Brownstein Hyatt, Best hopes to leverage his institutional relationships and undercut his competition at larger firms. He declines to discuss partner compensation matters at Dewey--issues raised in a recent civil suit filed against the firm and covered in this space before--saying only that Brownstein Hyatt extended an "offer I couldn't refuse."

There was one other important factor to consider in leaving Dewey--the opportunity for a more flexible work arrangment. Best's family spends the summer in Colorado, and the high-powered litigator wanted the chance to work from home, when necessary. The option was easier to accommodate with his new firm, given Brownstein Hyatt's home base in Denver.

Best says he did not work with a legal recruiter for the move. He says he received multiple offers from other firms, but declined to name them.

A Dewey spokesman declined to comment on Best's move when contacted by The Am Law Daily. Christopher Clark, previously the cohead of Dewey's white-collar defense and regulatory investigations group, is now the sole leader of the practice. (Clark, another close friend of Best's, made news on Thursday with the filing of a sanctions motion against Boies, Schiller & Flexner in a trade secrets case.)

According to the latest Am Law 100 financial data, Dewey's gross revenue fell 11 percent to $914 million in 2009, while profits per partner increased 3.4 percent to $1.6 million, largely because the firm decreased the size of its equity partnership.

Brownstein Hyatt's gross revenue increased 1.9 percent to $131 million in 2009, while profits per partner were $735,000; the firm increased the size of its equity partnership by more than 6 percent, according to Am Law 200 financial data.

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