The Firms

August 8, 2011 7:45 PM

Gone to Carolina: Dykema Opens Charlotte Office

Posted by Sara Randazzo

Dykema Gossett's announcement Monday that it will open an office in Charlotte, North Carolina, marked one of the first votes of confidence for the local legal market since 2008, when the financial meltdown kicked off a period of office closings and contractions in the city.

Dykema announced Monday that it has hired financial-services regulatory specialist Donald Lampe from Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice to open what is the Detroit-based firm's eleventh office and its first in the Southeast.

Lampe, accompanied in the move by senior associate Elizabeth Collins, started with Dykema on August 1, working out of the firm's Washington, D.C., office until new offices in the Bank of America Corporate Center in Charlotte are ready. Dykema expects to hire more lawyers in Charlotte in the near future.

Until 2008, banking-related work dominated the legal landscape in Charlotte, a city that is the country's second-largest financial services center outside of New York City, and that was, until recently, home base to two of the largest financial institutions in the United States, Bank of America Corp. and Wachovia Corp.

Even with San Francisco-based Wells Fargo & Co. acquiring Wachovia, financial services work still reigns supreme in the North Carolina city of about 5,000 lawyers. Dykema's move into the city underscores that point--and suggests that firms sense opportunity in the regulatory changes being imposed on the nation's banks by the Dodd-Frank Act and the newly formed Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

"Everything about the delivery of financial services is being reformed," says Lampe. "Nothing is not being regulated or re-regulated." 

In recent years, Charlotte's legal scene has seen more offices close than open. Dewey & LeBoeuf and Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal (now SNR Denton) both opened and closed in the city between 2007 and 2009. The 21 Am Law 200 firms with offices in Charlotte in 2008 reduced their lawyer head count by an average 15 percent from 2008 to 2009. All but three experienced some staff reductions during the year. The staff cuts at Am Law 200 firms in Charlotte slowed significantly in 2009, when total head count for lawyers working at those firms in the city reached 904, according to sibling publication The National Law Journal. That number remained largely unchanged in 2010.

North Carolina–based legal recruiter John Lassiter says he knows of multiple major law firms considering either adding a Charlotte office or expanding their existing operations in the city. Lower expenses than in other cities and reduced capital expenditures are part of the draw, he says. Support staff costs can run 30 percent to 50 percent lower than in other major markets, he adds, while real estate costs can be up to 60 percent lower.

Rex Schlaybaugh, chairman and CEO of Dykema, cited such factors as among the reasons he is optimistic about his firm's future in Charlotte, where he thinks financial services matters will be augmented by energy and litigation work. “We think it has all of the capabilities and opportunities to be a significant part of the firm in terms of size and contribution,” Schlaybaugh says.

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