Partner exodus and office closures continue as Howrey ‘restructures’

Long-term health of US firm now in question.


Trevor Soames
Trevor Soames

The pain shows no sign of ending for Howrey. Last Thursday (20 ­January) one of the firm’s best-known European partners, co-chair of its global antitrust practice and managing partner of the Brussels office Trevor Soames, confirmed that he had become the latest high-profile lawyer to quit the firm.

The most recent in a growing string of departures appears to raise serious questions about the long-term health of Howrey. The exit coincided with news that the US firm was about to close its office in Salt Lake City.

Howrey’s Salt Lake City base will close next month, the firm confirmed last week, making it the first of the firm’s US offices to shut since the partner exodus began last year.

The office – currently home to three partners, four associates, one counsel and one litigation attorney, most of whom are based in Howrey’s global litigation practice – will close on 15 February.
It is not known whether the office, led by managing partner and securities fraud specialist Richard Casey, has been acquired by another firm. Neither Casey nor firmwide chairman Bob Ruyak were available for comment.

Recently a succession of partners have left Howrey, with the total now thought to be in excess of 70.

Two days before Soames revealed he was quitting, three partners, including vice-chairman Henry Bunsow, left for Dewey & LeBoeuf.

The firm’s Taipei office was also acquired by US rival Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton in a deal that saw another partner, Glenn Rhodes, also leave Howrey.

Last week rumours were also circulating about the health of the firm’s office in Chicago.

Meanwhile, both the UK and German managing partners, Joachim Feldges and Mark ­Hodgson respectively, quit for Field ­Fisher Waterhouse, along with two other partners and four associates.

In an email last week Soames, long one of Howrey’s highest-profile European lawyers, whose clients include Microsoft, Qualcomm and United Airlines, ­confirmed that he was quitting the firm.
“Please note that I have, with regret, left Howrey,” Soames ­stated at the time, later adding that, while he had not at that point selected another firm to join, he had “a number of options”.

Soames insisted he was leaving the firm he joined in 2001 from Norton Rose, where he was head of competition, with “a heavy heart”.

He also said the move was not in any way connected with any of the other recent departures from Howrey, specifically that of the IP team, which has been blamed on US conflict of interest issues.

“My move has nothing to do with the departure of the partners in the IP practice in Europe,” Soames maintains. “I’ve had no problems with conflicts beyond what you’d expect in any firm.”
Soames adds that he has a “clear view” of swiftly building a leading competition practice of elite status in the Brussels market. He refuses to comment on why he left Howrey and whether they were linked to a wider malaise at the firm.

Competition partner Stephen Mavroghenis has replaced Soames as Howrey’s managing partner in Brussels. The firm’s official line on the dozens of partner exits, put forward earlier this month by Ruyak, is that the departures are part of a planned restructuring.

Ruyak’s comments, derided as spin by some, elicited a storm of comments on TheLawyer.com.

“The cause isn’t conflicts,” says one. “Conflicts have been around for as long as law firms have ­and others have managed to be ­successful.”

Another contributor is even more blunt, posting: “Anyone who thinks losing key practices and partners is strategic is delusional. And blaming it on conflicts makes about as much sense as blaming dinosaurs for global warming.”

matt.byrne@thelawyer.com
andrew.pugh@thelawyer.com