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February 16, 2011 8:28 AM

The Lateral: Thomas Wiegand Moves Away from the Billable Hour

Posted by Claire Zillman

Wiegand

When Steve Molo and Jeffrey Lamken left their big-firm homes of Shearman & Sterling and Baker Botts, respectively, in September 2009 to open their own litigation boutique, they were set on moving away from the billable hour in favor of alternative fee structures. The duo also hoped to build the New York/Washington, D.C.-based practice to include 40 to 50 lawyers over the next five years. Fifteen months since their launch, MoloLamken is making moves on the hiring front. The firm announced Wednesday that it has recruited litigator Thomas Wiegand of Winston & Strawn as a partner in New York.

Wiegand's move is a professional reunion for the veteran litigator and Molo, a close friend. The two practiced together at Winston & Strawn for 15 years, teaming up to represent Sears Roebuck in several class actions in the 1990s. (Molo, who had joined Winston in 1986, eventually moved on to Shearman before founding his own firm.)

A 1986 graduate of Harvard Law School, Wiegand has represented both plaintiffs and defendants for more than two decades, focusing on complex business litigation, class actions, and antitrust matters, as well as the defense of government investigations and prosecutions.

The Am Law Daily caught up with the newest MoloLamken partner by phone to talk about the move.

Hi, Tom. Thanks for taking time to talk with us. What prompted you to leave Winston & Strawn for MoloLamken?

Clients have been asking more frequently and more consistently to get away from the hourly fee and for fees structured in a way that makes sense. Big firms are willing to talk about that, but it doesn't seem to be happening nearly as often as it does as MoloLamken, where it's being done all the time. Second, I practiced with Steve Molo at Winston & Strawn for over 15 years before he left to go to Shearman & Sterling. We get along well, and I enjoy trying cases with him. Knowing him lessens the risk of going to a small firm. If I throw my lot in, I want it to be with someone I know is a good lawyer and a good businessperson. 

How did this move play out?

Steve and I have had a dialogue about this for a while, but he reached out to me, and it took me just a few weeks to make the decision. 

What sort of due diligence did you do to ensure the move was right for you?

I talked with every person at MoloLamken before taking the job, not just the partners. I went to dinner with the associates from New York, and I asked them for the real story. How this works on a daily basis? What would you change? I was uniformly impressed with these people, and I thought I'd really enjoy working with them.

How did your clients react when you told them you were leaving Winston for MoloLamken?

They're definitely expressing interest in doing business with MoloLamken. They want to talk about MoloLamken's model because they're all wrestling internally with how they're going to purchase legal services going forward. They want to hear about what we're proposing.

MoloLamken opened 15 months ago in the midst of the recession, when clients were panicked over how to pay their legal bills. Are clients still as concerned now as they were then?  

Clients are getting smarter at figuring out how to spend their legal budgets and how to contain them. MoloLamken offers them a model that gives them a better way to predict their legal fees going forward. For a while, legal departments had a hard time controlling their budgets and the other parts of their companies didn't like it when they missed their mark. That's a concern that isn't going away, and we can structure fees to meet that concern. 

MoloLamken has five associates and two discovery counsel. Will you be able to take on cases as big as those you handled at Winston?

Yes. We have all the same electronic software that large firms have. Steve and Jeff have invested in technology, and it's all set to handle huge document cases, e-discovery, electronic searches. Law firms only use a lot of associates during a few stages of a case. For document review and time-intensive matters, we bring on contract attorneys. 

How do you expect your day-to-day experience to change by moving from a firm of 410 lawyers to a five-lawyer office?

The new office is obviously more personal. There's no formalized corporate structure with departments and separate budgets like at big firms. In a smaller partnership you've got more control, for better or for worse--hopefully for the better. You have more control over the upside, the cost, and the business you take in, and how you structure it. It's much more entrepreneurial.

How would you describe the reaction so far to your move?

You know, it's risky if you move, it's risky if you don't. If you don't produce any business in either place it's a problem. At MoloLamken, we've cetainly lost no ability to handle big cases, and we have a better cost structure and fewer conflicts to worry about, plus I can add plaintiffs cases, which I really enjoy. Steve and Jeff struck out on their own 15 months ago and went from five to 12 lawyers. Now, not only do they have the room, but the need for a senior trial person. They're doing very well. 

 

Photo courtesy of MoloLamken

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