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January 19, 2012 5:39 PM

Labor and Employment Firms on the March: Jackson Lewis to Milwaukee, Littler to Memphis

Posted by Sara Randazzo

The nation's two largest labor and employment law firms expanded their respective footprints this week, with Jackson Lewis picking up a six-lawyer team in Milwaukee and Littler Mendelson adding 16 attorneys via a merger with a Memphis firm.

Both Jackson Lewis and Littler have grown steadily in recent years, to the point that the former now has 675 attorneys in 48 offices in 32 states, while the latter boasts 891 lawyers in 56 offices spread across 33 states, Washington, D.C, Mexico, and Venezuela. 

Littler's latest additions come via a merger announced Thursday with Kiesewetter Wise Kaplan Prather, a 15-year-old Memphis firm that focuses exclusively on management-side labor and employment law. Joining Littler in the tie-up are all four of the Tennessee firm's name partners—Jay Kiesewetter, Edward Wise, Jonathan Kaplan, and Paul Prather—as well as seven other shareholders and five associates.

Prather says he and his Kiesewetter Wise colleagues have been courted before, but that the prospect of combining with another firm didn't feel right until Littler made its initial overtures some 19 months ago.

"We felt the folks at Littler weren't just looking to have an office in Memphis just so they could have an office in Memphis," says Prather, adding that the merger should help ease the resource constraints Kiesewetter Wiese has felt recently when trying to take on work outside Tennessee.

While the Memphis group is set to officially adopt the Littler Mendelson name at the end of January, Prather says the assimilation process is well under way. On Thursday, for instance, he and the rest of the new shareholders were in San Diego for Littler's annual shareholder retreat.

Littler president and managing director Marko Mrkonich says Memphis is one of several markets the firm has long eyed as ripe for expansion. Locales on the list that Littler moved into last year include Nashville (in April), downtown Los Angeles (July), West Virginia (December), and Mexico City and Monterrey (also in December). According to the most recent Am Law 100 data, Littler had gross revenue of $381.5 million in 2010, profits per partner of $485,000, and revenue per lawyer of $505,000.

The firm's steady growth isn't just about boosting head count, Mrkonich says. Labor and employment work, he notes, comes from developing relationships in each market between firm lawyers and local companies. Asked if Littler has further expansion in mind, Mrkonich says, "I think we're at a point where the map is fairly filled in, but there are still some key cities where we don't have a presence."

Jackson Lewis has similar ambitions. Founded in White Plains, New York, in 1958, the firm kicked its own growth plan into high gear in 2006 and has opened new offices in 26 U.S. markets since then. The firm announced Wednesday that it has bolstered its presence in one of those markets by acquiring Milwaukee firm Simandl & Prentice, taking on six attorneys in the process.

While Jackson Lewis isn't new to Milwaukee—it added three lawyers in Brew City in June 2010, only one of whom remains with the firm—the latest additions add considerable regional heft, says Vincent Cino, a partner in New Jersey and head of the firm's litigation group.

The new hires include Simandl & Prentice partners Robert Simandl, Ann Barry Hanneman, and Brian Price, along with three associates. (Jackson Lewis's current lone Milwaukee lawyer, Brian Nuedling, will join the new office, Cino says.)

This week's announcement, Cino says, was a long time coming. Jackson Lewis first approached Simandl several years ago, but it wasn't until late last year that he warmed to the idea of making the leap. He and the new Jackson Lewis lawyers handle employment, labor, benefits, and immigration work for what Cino calls a mostly regional client base.

Cino says Jackson Lewis—whose clients include Boehringer Ingelheim, IBM, Neiman Marcus, Pfizer, and Toys "R" Us—had a strong year in 2011, despite absorbing the cost of opening new offices in Austin and St. Louis. The firm took in 2,400 new litigation matters last year, he says, and is defending 310 class actions. Jackson Lewis had gross revenue of $295.5 million, profits per partner of $540,000, and revenue per lawyer of $480,000 in 2010, figures that helped land the firm in The Am Law 100 for the first time.

Earlier this week, Jackson Lewis made news for signing on to represent Cablevision as the New York–based company prepares for a January 26 vote by field service workers aiming to unionize. Labor Notes reports that the current organizing push marks Cablevision workers' fourth attempt to unionize over the past two decades, and the first time a vote will be held. As part of its effort to repel the union, The New York Times reports, Cablevision has launched an internal Web site called "Why Union Free?" and required 285 employees in Brooklyn to attend antiunion meetings.

Long Island–based partner Mark Sussman is leading Jackson Lewis's efforts on behalf of Cablevision, Cino says. Sussman did not immediately return a request for comment Thursday.

A third labor and employment firm, Fisher & Phillips, has also expanded with the start of the new year. The firm announced January 10 that it, too, has opened a location in Memphis, as well as one in Boston, to bring its total office count to 27.

In Boston, Fisher & Phillips hired Joseph Ambash from Greenberg Traurig to launch the firm's office there. In Memphis, meanwhile, the firm's office will be founded by new partners Jeff Weintraub of The Weintraub Firm and Craig Cowart from Kiesewetter Wise Kaplan Prather (Cowart left on the eve of Kiesewetter's merger with Littler). The Memphis office will initially do business as The Weintraub Firm, P.C. a partner in Fisher & Phillips LLP.

Fisher & Phillips recorded $107.5 million in revenue in 2010, according to the most recent Am Law 200, with profits per partner of $450,000 and revenue per lawyer of $495,000.

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