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September 12, 2011 10:01 AM

Winston & Strawn Hires Ex-Howrey Chairman Ruyak

Posted by Sara Randazzo

Six months after presiding over the dissolution of the firm he led for 11 years, Robert Ruyak is returning to his trial lawyer roots by joining Winston & Strawn's Washington, D.C., office as an equity partner in the firm's global litigation practice.

Ruyak, an antitrust and intellectual property specialist, officially joined Winston on September 5. In his new position, he will forego any management role in favor of doing what he says he does best—trying cases. His move to the firm that he and others within Howrey once hoped would rescue them from insolvency comes as the Howrey estate continues to wind down its affairs in federal bankruptcy court.

Winston chairman Dan Webb says that adding the former Howrey chairman to the firm's litigation group represents a "major coup" and that Ruyak's stewardship of a firm now mired in bankruptcy presented "literally no risk whatsoever" to Winston. Ruyak's hiring—which, according to Webb, is not subject to a contract—was approved by a vote of Winston's partnership.

"Bob is truly an outstanding first-chair trial lawyer," said Webb, adding that Ruyak's "contacts with general counsels and major decision makers in corporate America are really second to none."

Ruyak said his new firm's strong reputation among clients and colleagues was a major draw, as was what he called Winston's "extraordinary litigation practice."

Many of Ruyak's new colleagues will be familiar faces—a factor he says also contributed to his decision to join Winston. Some 45 Howrey attorneys jumped to Winston just ahead of their former firm's official demise, including the majority of the Houston office and a handful of intellectual property partners in Washington, D.C., and Chicago. Those moves came after an ultimately unsuccessful months-long effort by the two firms to execute a merger that was largely doomed by client conflicts, according to attorneys affiliated with both firms.

Ruyak's run as Howrey's CEO, managing partner, and chairman began in 2000 and effectively ended on March 15, about a week after—amid declining revenues and a spate of high-profile defections—partners officially voted to dissolve the 55-year-old firm. An involuntary Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing followed in San Francisco federal bankruptcy court in April; the case was converted to a Chapter 11 proceeding in early June. 

(For a detailed analysis of what precipitated the firm's collapse, see The Fall of Howrey from the June issue of The American Lawyer.)

Ruyak said that he is eager to get back to trial work, which often took a back seat—especially in recent years—to management duties. Given the relatively small amount of time he has spent in court of late, Ruyak said he knows he needs to rebuild his book of business. "I don’t have the practice I had before," he said.

At the same time, he said, he has already been in touch with many clients, some of whom he asked for advice when deciding where to practice next.

"When I called and told some of those clients I was at Winston, they were very positive about that," Ruyak said. "Our opportunity now is to go speak with them, introduce them to people who will work with me at Winston, and convince them Winston has all the tools and skills necessary to handle their matters."

Over the years, Ruyak has represented Apple, American Airlines, General Electric Healthcare, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, SAP, and Verizon Communications, according to the Winston press release announcing his arrival. As far as the future, Ruyak said he has no intention of doing anything to interfere with the client relationships he passed on to younger Howrey partners, and that he expects to keep taking on cases in the antitrust and patent arenas.

"My plan is to continue to build on what I’ve done in the past, and try to encourage companies to use me for those [types of] cases," he said.

The 61-year-old Ruyak didn't totally avoid trial work while serving as Howrey CEO. In October 2009, for instance, he represented Eaton Corp. at trial in an antitrust case against ArvinMeritor over the marketing of truck transmissions. A jury in Delaware federal court found that Eaton had engaged in anticompetitive behavior; the case is now on appeal. In 2010 Ruyak led an injunction trial for American Airlines in an antitrust case against Travelport over online reservation systems.

Ruyak said he did not start to think seriously about finding a new professional home until July. Prior to that, he said, he devoted "120 percent" of his time to his duties as one member of the five-person committee charged with overseeing Howrey's dissolution, as well as to helping the firm's remaining staff members find new jobs.

(Not all former firm staffers are apparently happy with his efforts on that front: the Howrey estate currently faces a pair of lawsuits brought by former employees over alleged violations of the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act.)

Ruyak said that by the end of the summer he decided that the bankruptcy could proceed without his help and that the time had come to consider joining a new firm. Once he started looking, he added, he seriously considered four or five firms before deciding on Winston.

Winston's Webb did not describe the discussions between the firm and Ruyak that led to Monday's announcement in detail, saying simply that he made "a concerted effort to woo" Ruyak and kept after him until, as he put it, "we won."

Ruyak said he is not sure yet if he will continue to take a paycheck from the Howrey estate for dissolution committee work, which he said is more advisory in nature now that the "the heavy-lifting work" is complete. For the past several months he has been paid by the hour (at what he said is a fraction of the rate he normally charges clients), with the approval of Citibank, Howrey's primary lender and largest secured creditor. 

An operating report filed with the bankruptcy court last month showed that Ruyak collected $113,191 in July. Former Howrey partner Robert Green, a member of the dissolution committee, is still working at the firm full-time to help with day-to-day operations of the bankruptcy, Ruyak says.

In joining Winston, Ruyak follows the path traveled by other former heads of defunct firms in recent years.

Thelen chairman Stephen O’Neal, for example, brought his construction litigation group to Howrey just weeks after Thelen voted to disband. He and others moved to Jones Day ahead of Howrey’s March dissolution. Heller Ehrman chairman Matthew Larrabee joined the white-collar and securities litigation group at Dechert in San Francisco about a month after that firm's dissolution vote in September 2008. And Tower Snow, who led Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison until being ousted in 2002, has worked at three firms since the firm’s 2003 demise: Clifford Chance, Howard Rice Nemerovski Canady Falk & Rabkin (following a several-year hiatus), and, most recently Cooley.

Since Howrey's dissolution, Ruyak said he has had little time to reflect on what, if anything, could have been done differently to prevent the firm from going under.

"I can’t quite get my mind around that part of it yet," he said. "I think at some point maybe I will. It was a very tough time for everybody, tough decision making."

Still, he said, all things considered, "I don't have any regrets."

Related stories:

Ex-Howrey Chair's Salary for July: $113,000 (August 27, 2011)

For Howrey Estate, Latest Batch of Bills Totals $440,000 (August 18, 2011)

Everything Must Go: Howrey's D.C. Furniture on the Auction Block (August 12, 2011)

Howrey Files Monthly Operating Report; Hires Duane Morris (July 29, 2011)

Milk Money: $140 Million Dairy Settlement a Likely Boon to Howrey Estate (July 13, 2011)

Howrey Hit With Another WARN Suit (April 8, 2011)

Adviser: Howrey's End Wasn't Foregone Conclusion (March 16, 2011)

Howrey's Houston Head Speaks As More Partners Leave Firm (March 14, 2011)

Howrey to Dissolve Effective March 15 (March 9, 2011)

With Dissolution Vote Approaching, More Howrey Departures (March 8, 2011)

Winston's Delicate Dance (February 28, 2011)

Experts: For Howrey, Mass Departures to Winston Could Breach Debt Obligations (February 2, 2011)

Report: Winston Makes Offers to Most Howrey Partners (February 1, 2011)

Howrey Vice-Chair Heads to Dewey & LeBoeuf (January 18, 2011)

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Good luck with the transition!

This is my favorite line in the whole article and very telling, "Ruyak, an antitrust and intellectual property specialist, officially joined Winston on September 5. In his new position, he will forego any management role in favor of doing what he says he does best—trying cases."
Really, Mr. Ruyak? What you do best is not management but trying cases? No duh. No one knows this better than the hundreds of former Howrey employees who are the victims of what you now admit you don't know best -- management. Good luck Winston & Strawn ... just watch your back.

61 years old - and he has to hustle clients for business like an associate? Private practice is NOT where it is at.

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