Donovan Leisure loses 40 to Orrick Herrington

(Richard Tyler ) The future of New York firm Donovan Leisure Newton & Irvine hangs in the balance following the exodus of a 40-lawyer litigation team to the New York office of bi-coastal firm Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe.

The mass defection has left Donovans with fewer than 30 lawyers, spread between its New York, Los Angeles and Paris offices.

Kenneth Hart, Donovan's departing litigation chairman said the litigation department had always been 'the core of the firm'. He said the rump of the firm would dissolve although nobody was available at the firm to confirm or deny this claim.

The two firms had earlier been involved in protracted merger talks, but talks stalled after a client shared by the two firms objected to the merger.

Orrick spokesperson Michael Meyers said the initial basis for the negotiations was his firm's interest in Donovan's litigation team that would make the New York office 'a very dynamic practice'.

Among the 12 litigation partners joining Orrick are Donovan's current chairman, Peter Coll, and senior litigators Charles Gerdts, James Stengel, Daniel Thomasch and Louis Lustenberger.

Two corporate partners, John McCann and Peter Smith, are also moving to Orrick.

Meyers said the firm would not be taking on Donovan's 10-lawyer Paris office, but according to Hart the office's lawyers 'will have no trouble moving to other firms'.

Orrick's New York office now has 200 lawyers, making it the firm's largest in the US.

Orrick's acquisition is another example of the growing trend towards bi-coastal combinations of firms in the US.

Earlier this month, New York's Reid & Priest and San Francisco's Thelen Marrin Johnson & Bridges merged to create a 350-lawyer firm, with offices in San Fransisco, New York, Washington DC and Los Angeles.

Orrick's expansion plans have not been limited to the US.

It recently announced plans to establish an office in London.

It has already hired Chadbourne & Parke's English law qualified project finance partner Ian Johnson, who will return from Singapore in the summer to set up the office along with US lawyer Michael Voldstad.