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November 9, 2011 6:29 PM

The Lateral: Texas Litigator Jumps from Big Firm to Boutique

Posted by Tom Huddleston Jr.

Keith McDoleMost lawyers get a new business card when they start a new job. Commercial litigator Keith McDole got his name on the door.

After a long run at Jones Day's Dallas office, McDole joined the Dallas-based intellectual property and commercial litigation boutique Kennedy, Clark & Williams on November 1. Upon his arrival, the eight-lawyer firm changed its name to McDole, Kennedy & Williams. (While partner Steven Clark remains active in labor and employment matters, the other attorneys deemed four names too many for the title, McDole says.)

Of counsel at Jones Day, McDole, 63, handled cases that included class actions, real estate, lender liability, antitrust, and intellectual property litigation. He joined the firm's Dallas office in 1986 after spending time at Kirkland & Ellis and Levy and Erens. He left Jones Day in 1995 for what became a six-year stint as general counsel at Occidental Chemical Corporation—a job he took after doing securities litigation for the company's parent, Occidental Petroleum, a Jones Day client—and before returning to the firm in 2001.

While his new professional home may lack Jones Day's global platform and armies of lawyers, McDole expects clients to seek him out for a more hands-on approach. "Our model is based on doing well three things: commercial litigation, intellecutal property, and employment." On Monday, McDole spoke with The Am Law Daily about his reasons for moving from large firm to small, how he thinks the change will affect his practice and clients, and his plans to grow his new firm.

How did the move come about and how long was it in the works?

We've been talking for a year as I worked through the process of whether this was something I wanted to do and something that I thought made sense for my clients. [Name Partner Stephen Kennedy] used to work with me at Jones Day [during McDole's first stint with the firm]. Steve and I worked together in preparing a lot of cases for trial. So I knew Steve. I got to know his partners. And then, ultimately, as we got down closer to [fall], I decided that this was something that I thought made sense for me and that I wanted to do.

Did the prospect of seeing your name as part of the firm's name factor into your decison?

It had never occurred to me when I was talking to Kennedy, Clark & Williams that they would propose that. And I was flattered when they did. I don't think, in terms of the way we do business here, it matters one iota. But it's kind of nice.

Now that you’re a name partner, can your clients still expect you to handle their matters personally?

This is a small firm and the four of us [Clark, Kennedy, McDole, and Steven Williams] pretty much make decisions collectively. I think that the business model that our firm has is one where our clients can expect to receive the same high-quality legal services from us that they would have received at larger  firms. It's not the kind of model where we envision lateraling the case off to a junior partner or to associates. Here, the idea is if you hire McDole, you're going to get McDole and [associate help if needed], but the key thing is that you'll be getting the lawyer you actually hired.

Will being a name partner change the way you bill?

The key thing that I expect that clients will find is that we have a willingness to structure fixed-fee arrangements that align the firm's interests with the clients. Just by virtue of the way [larger, national firms] are structured, and their costs, their rates are simply higher. And I know with a number of the clients I've talked to it's been a question of saying, 'My rate has gone down substantially and [you’re] the same lawyer that I used two weeks ago.'

How have your clients reacted to your move?

They have just been really supportive of the fact that I've made the move, [and] that I can continue to work with them. I don't plan to handle matters here that I worked on at Jones Day, but clients with whom I have a relationship, I would expect and I hope that they still will come to me. And that's kind of how I plan to grow the practice here and grow the firm here.

Anything else you can say about your plans to grow?

Our growth plans are to stay in the three areas of practice that we're in right now. We don't plan to branch out and start doing corporate work. It's a very conservatively run firm in all respects. We're not going to move any faster than we can without taking too much risk on, and we don't want to take any debt on or anything like that. But I can see us doubling in size fairly quickly.

Can we expect more of your Jones Day colleagues to join McDole, Kennedy & Williams?

I think it's possible.

Interviews are condensed and edited for clarity, style, and grammar.

 

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