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October 8, 2010 2:37 PM

12 European IP Partners, 14 Associates Leaving Howrey

Posted by Julie Triedman

Update, 10/11/2010, 12:45 pm - A comment from Howrey on the departures has been added in the second paragraph below; a comment by the departing European Managing Partner, Willem Hoyng, is at paragraph six.

Citing persistent client conflicts and poor work flow with the U.S. side of the firm, Howrey's Europe IP head and at least 11 other partners are departing to set up a new IP firm. Fourteen associates are also expected to leave. Howrey issued a statement on the departures Monday morning.

"For the past several months we have wrestled with the increasingly serious issue of client conflicts- an issue which has presented enormous difficulties for certain European IP partners and for Howrey as those partners developed new business or expanded on existing business," Howrey CEO and Chairman, Robert F. Ruyak said on Monday. "For this reason, we have come to the mutual decision that it is everyone’s best interest for this group to form their own independent firm and they do so with our best wishes."

All but one of the partners and all but a few of the associates leaving are based in Amsterdam and Brussels, the two offices at the core of Howrey's European IP practice. The two offices were the most profitable globally last year, according to the firm. 

The Amsterdam office has seven partners, all specializing in IP, as well as 11 other counsel and associates, according to the firm's Web site. All are reported to be leaving. All four IP partners in the 40-lawyer Brussels office are also expected to leave. (A fifth IP partner in the office, Patricia Cappuyns, who was elevated to partner in January, left Howrey independently in August.) One partner and a few associates are leaving the Paris office, the firm confirmed.

The departures call into question the unique global litigation model Howrey has trumpeted since it began expanding its core IP and antitrust practices in Europe nearly a decade ago. "The fundamental reason we are doing it is we don't think the market is ready for a Trans-Atlantic model for IP," says a departing partner who spoke on the condition he not be identified.

"It is with a certain sadness that we had to conclude that forming our own European firm is clearly the best way forward," says Willem Hoyng, the firm's departing European managing partner. "The US should take a serious look at their conflict rules which are often not in the interest of clients, but are just a tool to out-maneuver competition."

Howrey currently has 254 partners worldwide and roughly 550 lawyers spread across 18 offices. The firm concentrates exclusively on litigation and limits its focus mainly to three practice areas: IP, antitrust, and global litigation and dispute resolution.

Howrey opened its doors in Amsterdam in 2003, a year after it opened in Brussels. With the addition of some well-known IP lawyers in both offices in the next few years, the firm earned recognition in 2008 as the "Top US firm in Europe" for intellectual property, according to a Reuters IP legal market overview. 

The Brussels IP practice was founded in early 2005 with the arrival of IP partner Carl De Meyer, former head of Linklaters’s Brussels office, according to the firm's announcement at the time.

In addition to Hoyng, above, confirmed lawyers leaving Howrey' is Benoit Strowel, head of the firm's European IP practice and one of Europe's best-known IP litigators. Prior to moving to Howrey in 2006, Strowel was managing partner of one of the largest Amsterdam-based firms, NautaDutilh. Other top partners such as De Meyer could not be reached at press time.

The remaining two dozen or so lawyers in the Brussels office are focused on the European competition practice. That group is staying in place, although conflicts have occasionally been a problem in that practice as well. A major rainmaker, Peter Camesasca, who represented Samsung, left in March due to conflicts. The Brussels office also lost one of its most prominent competition partners, Martina Maier, who departed on Aug. 27 for McDermott Will & Emery. Maier joined Howrey four years ago to help strengthen and expand the office's antitrust bench strength.

After the expected departures, Howrey's European IP practice will be left with just 10 IP partners spread across five European offices: two in Paris; three in Munich; two each in London and Madrid; and one in Dusseldorf.

Lawyers who are leaving cite work flow problems between the U.S. and Europe on IP matters, especially compared with the volume of U.S. referral work they handled before joining Howrey. Problems have been exacerbated by U.S. conflict of interest rules, which have prevented them from taking on work they might have been free to pursue as partners with European-based firms. "You often have to turn away work here because of the more stringent conflicts rules in the U.S.," says one partner. 

The location and name of the firm that the departing partners are creating has not yet been released.

Although not mentioned as a reason for the current wave of departures, Howrey has recently suffered from poor profitability; last year, profits per partner plunged 35 percent firmwide. Some European partners were said to be especially irked about the results, particularly those in the most profitable offices.

Robert Ruyak, Howrey's CEO and chair, has visited the Brussels office twice in the past four weeks to talk to the IP group, according to partners there, and to work on a restructuring of the European offices. Ruyak told The American Lawyer on Wednesday that the firm was embarking on a "restructuring" in Europe, with plans to grow in some areas of higher demand. Partners with knowledge of the restructuring plans say the firm has also been considering closing an office or offices in Europe due to weak profits.

 

 

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In the past year their Brussels office also lost Dr. Michael Schütte, Lars Kjølbye and Thomas Chellingsworth and did not replace them with anyone. Sinking ship..

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