The Firms

February 13, 2012 7:15 PM

Crowell Loses Financial Services, International Arbitration Practice Leaders

Posted by Brian Baxter

Crowell & Moring is losing a slew of lawyers, with former financial services chair William O'Connor leading a group to Thompson & Knight this week, while international arbitration chair Arif Hyder Ali and three other partners from his group are headed to Weil, Gotshal & Manges within the next two weeks.

Reached by phone in Miami, where he was boarding a flight to New York, O'Connor confirmed Monday that he is leaving Crowell. Joining him in making the move to Thompson & Knight is New York–based financial services and litigation partner Evelyn Seeler.

"I'll know more [about other attorneys leaving] by Wednesday," said O'Connor, who will cohead Thompson & Knight's 40-lawyer real estate and business transactions practice with current partner Mark Weibel in New York.

O'Connor says that he spoke with several firms—such as Alston & Bird, Dechert, and Perkins Coie—before deciding he felt most at home with what he calls Thompson & Knight's "great platform."

O'Connor joined Crowell from Buchanan Ingersoll in February 2007 as the leader of an eight-lawyer group. One of those lawyers was counsel Douglas Arntsen, whose tenure at Crowell ultimately proved problematic for the firm.

Arntsen fled to Hong Kong last year and was soon thereafter arrested on charges that he had embezzled at least $2.5 million in escrow funds from a Crowell real estate client. The client, Regal Real Estate, subsequently sued Crowell. Represented by lawyers from Cooley, Crowell settled the Regal suit in early December. At least one other Arntsen-related suit filed by a former firm client remains active, according to New York state court records.

As for Arntsen, the Manhattan district attorney's office sought his extradition from Hong Kong, and he was arraigned in New York late last month on charges of stealing more than $7 million from Crowell clients. Carter Ledyard & Milburn's Alan Lewis is representing Arntsen, who is being held without bail.

Cooley and Crowell white-collar litigation partner Kelly Currie, who joined the firm in 2010, led an internal investigation of Crowell's real estate transactions practice in the wake of Arntsen's arrest. Asked whether the Arntsen matter or Crowell's handling of it played any role in his decision to leave the firm, O'Connor says "it didn’t enter into the discussion."

According to the most recent Am Law 100 financial data reported by sibling publication The Blog of Legal Times, Crowell saw profits per partner dip 6.1 percent to $845,000 in 2011, while gross revenues remained roughly flat at $329.5 million. The firm is facing further lateral losses.

Weil litigation cochair James Quinn confirmed to The Am Law Daily on Monday that his firm is poised to pick up a group of international arbitrators from Crowell "in a week or two."

A Crowell spokeswoman subsequently confirmed that the departing partners include international arbitration practice chair Arif Hyder Ali in London, vice-chair Alexandre de Gramont in Washington, D.C., Theodore Posner in D.C., and Samaa Haridi in London and New York.

"We wish them well as they pursue their new opportunities," Crowell managing partner Ellen Dwyer said in a statement about the partners leaving for both Weil and Thompson & Knight. "Our international arbitration and financial services practices will continue to grow here at Crowell & Moring as they remain an important part of our firm."

A Crowell spokeswoman told The Am Law Daily late Monday that the departures of the four international arbitration partners for Weil will leave the firm's practice group with 35 remaining lawyers.

Crowell has been busy in the lateral market itself so far this year, picking up two pharmaceutical litigation partners in San Francisco from Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton in January, while adding two broker-dealers partners in New York, one apiece from Haynes and Boone and another from a counsel position at Debevoise & Plimpton.

The firm also made a high-profile hire in mid-January by picking up Jeffrey Smith, the former head of Cravath, Swaine & Moore’s environmental practice.

Sara Randazzo contributed reporting.


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