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May 24, 2011 3:52 PM

Epstein Becker's Losses Continue as Cozen Swipes 14 Lawyers in Houston

Posted by Brian Baxter

The bulk of Epstein Becker & Green's Houston office has left the firm to join Cozen O'Connor, according to Texas Lawyer, a sibling publication.

Cozen announced the move on Tuesday. Joining Cozen are 14 lawyers, five of them partners originally with the firm known as Wickliff & Hall, the first minority-owned firm in Texas to represent significant corporate clients. Wickliff & Hall joined Epstein Becker in 2002 and the Am Law 200 firm's Houston office was called Epstein Becker Green Wickliff & Hall.

Joining Cozen, which opened its own Houston office in June 2004, are name partners A. Martin Wickliff, Jr., and Alton Hall, Jr., partners David Barron, Terrence Robinson, and Charles Wilson, and of counsel J. Cal Courtney, Jr. The group is the latest large collection of laterals to leave Epstein Becker, which closed its Miami office in January and saw its real estate practice leader and five colleagues depart at about the same time.

Wickliff, the managing partner of Epstein Becker's Houston office, is among the Lone Star state's most prominent minority lawyers. In this profile of Wickliff, who took over Wickliff & Hall from his father Aloysius "Papa Wick" Wickliff, Texas Lawyer reports the son helped grow the firm to 31 lawyers before its merger with Epstein Becker a decade ago.

Epstein Becker spokesman James Haggerty told The Am Law Daily on Tuesday that the firm appreciated the contributions made by Wickliff & Hall, and wished "Marty, Alton, and their colleagues all the best."

For Epstein Becker, Wickliff & Hall had been a key component of a Texas operation that shrank from two offices to one in February 2008 when the firm shuttered its Dallas outpost. Wickliff & Hall lawyers in Dallas were invited to join Epstein Becker's Houston operations, but some chose to help form a new women-owned firm called Spencer, Crain, Cubbage, Healy & McNamara that May, Texas Lawyer reported at the time.

Epstein Becker's Houston office now consists of health care partner Mark Armstrong and associate Daniel Gospin. Another former partner at the firm, litigator Stephen Cochell, set up a solo practice in Houston earlier this year. Despite the loss of its lawyers there, Epstein Becker's Haggerty says that the firm intends to maintain a presence in Houston and is looking at the possibility of additional hires and expansion in the city.

"[Epstein Becker] remains active in the Houston market and will maintain its office there, serving clients in the areas of health care and labor and employment law," Haggerty says. "The firm has strong national brands in these areas, and will continue to focus on maximizing the strength of these brands, both in Texas and nationally."

Other lawyers leaving Epstein Becker in Houston for Cozen include senior counsel Norasha Williams and associates Jennifer Cooper, Nelsy Gomez, O. Darcele Holley, Michelle Moore, Greta Ravitsky, Daniel Schuch, and Tammy Shea. Texas Lawyer reports that the new hires will nearly double the size of Cozen's Houston office, which now has 15 lawyers. (The Legal Intelligencer, a sibling publication, has more on Philadelphia-based Cozen's expansion in Texas.)

Wickliff, a labor and employment partner, told The Am Law Daily on Tuesday that his team was attracted to Cozen's national platform and expertise for litigation and energy work. Hall, who specializes in energy and environmental litigation, says his team was also impressed by Cozen's commitment to diversity. Both lawyers say they had received offers from numerous other firms this year and during their search utilized the services of a legal recruiter, which they declined to name.

Hall and Wickliff also declined to comment on the circumstances surrounding the recent spate of departures from Epstein Becker, noting that they will take with them only fond memories of their former employer. But in leaving for Cozen, the two are just the latest lawyers to lateral out of the firm.

In January, Epstein Becker closed its Miami office after the loss of local managing partner Michael Casey to Duane Morris, along with partners Richard Tuschman, Kevin Vance, and Hector Chichoni, and associates Teresa Maestrelli and Mark Beutler. That same month the office's remaining lawyers in Miami joined Gordon & Rees. (Former Norwegian Cruise Line general counsel Robert Kritzman left Epstein Becker's Miami office for K&L Gates in March 2010, a little more than a year after he first joined the firm.)

The closure of the Miami office was followed by the loss of M. Maxine Hicks, who had chaired the firm's national real estate practice and served as managing partner of its Atlanta office. Hicks joined DLA Piper with five colleagues in mid-January. The following month, Gordon & Rees announced that it was opening an office in Atlanta with two partners--Donald Woodard and C. Anthony Mulrain--from Epstein Becker.

Meanwhile, San Francisco office managing partner William Helvestine, who had been a member of Epstein Becker's board of directors, has also apparently left the firm, according to an auto-reply message from his Epstein Becker e-mail address stating that he has moved to Crowell & Moring. Helvestine did not immediately respond to an e-mail sent to him at Crowell.

Haggerty, the Epstein Becker spokesman, says that the moves are part of a larger strategic plan by the New York-based firm.

"Over the past several years, we have made a concerted effort to more precisely refine our focus to reflect these strengths and the changing needs of our clients," Haggerty says. "With that in mind, we have recently made key lateral additions to our offices in San Francisco, Atlanta, Washington, Chicago, Newark, and New York. Our goal is to continue to pursue a strategy of 'focused excellence,' and we look forward to exploring additional expansion opportunities that fit within our unique strategic platform."

Epstein Becker's financial results for 2010 can be found in The American Lawyer's Am Law 200 issue in June. Cozen saw gross revenue decrease 4.5 percent to $277.5 million in 2010, while profits per partner fell almost 7 percent to $605,000, according to Am Law 100 financial data on the 500-lawyer firm published this month.

According to an annual survey on attorney head count compiled by The National Law Journal, a sibling publication, the number of lawyers working at Cozen remained flat at roughly 500 in 2010. Epstein Becker, meanwhile, saw its headcount drop to 300 lawyers last year, a decrease of 25 lawyers from 2009.

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