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January 12, 2012 4:31 PM

DLA Piper and Dechert End Bitter Partner Dispute

Posted by Chris Johnson

DLA Piper and Dechert have quietly settled their fierce feud over the latter's 2011 hire of former DLA litigation cohead Neil Gerrard, The Am Law Daily has learned.

While DLA, Dechert, and Gerrard all declined to comment or did not respond when contacted about the status of the row, a source close to the situation says the parties settled both a U.K. arbitration and a U.S. litigation related to the dispute in December. It is unclear whether the settlement's terms call for any money to change hands.

The skirmish kicked off when Gerrard jumped from DLA to Dechert's London office in April 2011 as cohead of that firm's global white-collar litigation practice. DLA retaliated swiftly by initiating arbitration proceedings against its former partner in May.

At issue was whether Gerrard had violated DLA's noncompete policy by failing to serve a period of so-called gardening leave—a common U.K. practice under which lawyers lateraling between firms see out their notice on paid leave—before starting at Dechert.

Having intially informed DLA and his clients that he was leaving the firm on April 22, Gerrard formally joined Dechert on April 23—despite DLA asking for a longer notice period that included gardening leave. (The firm now enforces a mandatory three-month period of gardening leave for departing partners, but the policy did not take effect until May 1—after Gerrard had left for Dechert.)

Reporting on the matter last May, U.K. publication Legal Week wrote that in addition to serving notice of arbitration on Gerrard, DLA had declined to transfer client records for matters Gerrard had been working on to Dechert.

Dechert countered in October by filing a one-page writ of summons against DLA's U.S. and U.K. operations in Common Pleas Court in Philadelphia, where Dechert is headquartered. 

Though the filing did not identify the basis for the claim, sources told sibling publication The Legal Intelligencer at the time that it was related to the dispute over Gerrard's hire.

Gerrard, who had by then been listed as a partner on both firms' Web sites for several months, was represented in the U.K. arbitration by Herbert Smith and barrister Mark Howard QC of Brick Court Chambers. DLA was advised by Stephenson Harwood's litigation head John Fordham. Speaking to The Am Law Daily in October, Fordham said he was unaware of the U.S. litigation. Both Dechert and DLA declined to comment on the matter, as did Philadelphia-based Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller, which filed the Common Pleas Court writ.

As it happened, Gerrard's move coincided with the resignation of DLA's regional corporate crime head Jonathan Pickworth, who joined Dechert's London office on April 16. (Pickworth was not involved in any dispute with his former firm.)

In October, shortly after Dechert had filed its writ, the firm announced that it had hired another high profile partner from DLA's London office, trade and government relations head Miriam Gonzalez, who is also known as the wife of U.K. deputy prime minister Nick Clegg. Gonzalez now leads Dechert's E.U. trade and government affairs practice.

Meanwhile, as reported by Legal Week, Norton Rose's former litigation head Antony Dutton last week became the latest partner to join Dechert's fast-growing London office. Dutton had been at Norton Rose for 22 years and sat on the U.K. firm's partnership council, having been elected to the post last April. 

Given the Gerrard contretemps, it's worth noting that as of Thursday, Dutton was still listed as a partner on the Norton Rose Web site. Other than the press release announcing his arrival, there was no mention of him on Dechert's site.

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