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March 17, 2011 5:42 PM

Winston Opens Houston Office With 40 Howrey Lawyers

Posted by Brian Baxter

The Chicago River ran kelly green in honor of St. Patrick's Day on Thursday, but Winston & Strawn managing partner Thomas Fitzgerald, a graduate of Notre Dame's law school, didn't have time to see it.

Fitzgerald, who took over management of the Chicago-based firm five years ago, was busy ironing out the details on Winston's new Houston office. The firm officially announced on Thursday the hire of more than 40 IP and commercial litigation lawyers from Howrey, which formally dissolved on March 15.

Winston was involved in a very public courtship of Howrey partners over the past few months, making offers to most of those not conflicted out of joining the firm. But as the glue that held what was left of Howrey slowly became undone, its partners fled elsewhere, with various Am Law 100 firms picking up chunks of the 55-year-old firm.

"We have such a high degree of respect for Howrey and their folks," says Fitzgerald, who declined to elaborate on the circumstances that led to merger talks breaking down between the two firms. "We have great respect for the firm and their people, and for those folks that went to other firms. We of course wish them the best of luck."

Fitzgerald says that Winston began identifying opportunities in IP, corporate transactional, and energy areas in Texas about a year ago. Winston's IP practice was particularly looking for a presence in the Lone Star State, whose federal courts remain a popular venue for patent cases. The lawyers in Howrey's Houston office were mostly holdovers from IP boutique Arnold, White & Durkee, which merged with Howrey in 2000, which was an added allure.

"They were always high on our list in terms of the trial skills, capabilities, and client base that we found attractive," Fitzgerald says. "We like the group dynamic, the respect they have for each other, and the substantial technical expertise they add to our national IP practice."

In 2010, The American Lawyer named Winston's IP practice as a finalist for its Litigation Department of the Year in the IP section. Fitzgerald declined to comment on specific clients the firm will be picking up, citing the necessity of certain clearances. He does note that IP will "play an increasingly important part in the energy field."

Stephen Cagle, the former managing partner of Howrey's Houston office, told sibling publication Texas Lawyer earlier this week that 15 partners would be part of the team joining Winston. The remaining lawyers joining the firm are special counsel, associates, and certain IP experts.

Fitzgerald confirmed those numbers to The Am Law Daily on Thursday. Besides Cagle, other former Howrey partners joining Winston include Casey Berger, Gregory Duffey, Gary Fischman, John Keville, J. Dean Lechtenberger, Stephen Lundwall, Floyd Nation, John O'Neill, Melinda Patterson, Jeffrey Phillips, Eric Schlichter, Brian Simmons, Tyler Van Houtan, and Merritt Westcott.

Fitzgerald notes that the few Houston partners who won't be joining Winston--such as the two who joined IP boutique Novack Druce + Quigg last week--were conflicted out of the move but that other Howrey lawyers would join Winston offices elsewhere.

"Conflicts are always an issue, but certainly they were less numerous in the Houston situation than they were potentially with respect to other people," Fitzgerald says. "There will also be people that will be joining us in Washington, D.C., and Chicago. The exact numbers I don't have at my fingertips, but we will have folks joining us from Howrey in both those offices." (Winston later confirmed that ex-Howrey IP partners Vivian Kuo and Andrew Sommer would join the firm in D.C.)

Fitzgerald says that going forward, Winston will focus on growing its practices, both in terms of depth and geography. Growth doesn't just mean adding laterals, Fitzgerald says, but working with clients on fee agreements and other matters. Winston's top lawyer admits he's being scant on specifics, but points to certain benchmarks the firm has met in recent months.

Winston hired former O'Melveny & Myers partner C. James Levin and Mayer Brown partner Warren Loui last September to put in place a corporate practice in Los Angeles. The firm made moves in London and New York earlier this year by adding IP partners Richard Price and Gareth Morgan from Taylor Wessing and Michael Murray from Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy.

A spike in litigation, the firm's bread and butter, saw Winston's gross revenues increase 2 percent to $717 million in 2010. Profits per partner also rose 10 percent from $1.29 million in 2009 to $1.39 million last year, according to the latest Am Law 100 financial data for the firm.

Fitzgerald says the Howrey additions will put Winston's head count over 900 lawyers, and while he promised to check out Chicago's green river before day's end, he admits there's only one color where he likes to see his firm--in the black.

 

CLICK HERE for Howrey Scorecard: Where Have All the Lawyers Gone?, our chart tracking Howrey partner moves.

 

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