Howrey lawyers leave in droves with remainder kept in the dark

Latest flurry sees high-profile departures on both sides of the Pond.

Trevor Soames
Trevor Soames

Another week, another raft of departures from beleaguered firm Howrey. While the firm’s US office has borne the brunt in recent weeks, last week there were more departures from its dwindling European network too.

With a deadline for offers made by Chicago firm Winston & Strawn set to expire imminently (last month the firm made offers to around two-thirds of partners who were at Howrey at that time), there is now little for the firm to choose from in Europe.

As revealed on last week (23 February), Howrey’s former Brussels managing partner Trevor Soames will join US firm Shearman & Sterling alongside 16 lawyers from the Brussels office.

Among those departing is Stephen Mavroghenis, the English-qualified lawyer drafted in to replace Soames as Brussels ­managing partner when he left last month. Mavroghenis will be joined at Shearman by fellow partners Götz Drauz, Geert Goeteyn and Miguel Rato, as well as 12 ­associates.

Howrey’s European network has been hit hard since last ­October, when a 14-partner team spun off to form IP boutique Hoyng Monegier, including Europe managing partner Willem Hoyng, head of Europe IP Benoit Strowel and Amsterdam managing partner Bart van den Broek.

At the beginning of January Field Fisher Waterhouse poached Howrey London head Mark Hodgson, and a week later the City firm lured four partners and four associates from its Munich and Düsseldorf offices, including the managing partner of both bases Joachim Feldges. The raids have left Howrey with no presence in Amsterdam, Munich or ­Düsseldorf.

Last week’s Brussels departures also contradict comments made by under-fire managing partner Bob Ruyak in an interview with The Lawyer last month. At the time Ruyak claimed the firm had made a decision to spin off its IP practice in Europe due to what he described as “devastating” client conflicts in the US.

Instead, Ruyak insisted, the firm’s European office would have a renewed focus on antitrust and competition work. Yet all five ­partners who have left for ­Shearman worked in Howrey’s competition and antitrust team.

While Howrey continues to flounder on the Continent, the move represents a major boost for Shearman’s European global antitrust practice. At the moment it has only one full-time partner in its Brussels competition practice, so the arrivals will strengthen the US firm’s capabilities in M&A-related antitrust matters and cartel work.

None of the remaining partners in Howrey’s London or Madrid offices were available to comment, but one Paris partner, who did not want to be named, revealed the extent to which partners in Europe are being kept in the dark.

When asked for any thoughts on the future of the practice, the partner replied: “Quite frankly, I don’t know. I have some kind of idea at this stage, but only a vague one.

“Only those in charge can decide now. I must say that in Paris we haven’t been informed at all about what’s happening, and we’re not expecting a vote on what will ­eventually happen. It’s not fair for the firm to keep us in the dark.”

The partner confirmed an approach from Winston, which has offices in both Paris and London. “It’s obviously something we’d be interested in, but I don’t want to say anything that could jeopardise it,” added the partner.
A partner in Brussels also ­confirmed that Winston has made offers to all partners in the office, but was unsure how many would accept.

Meanwhile, Howrey has been hit by more departures in the US. Last week IP litigator James Batchelder joined Ropes & Gray, while ­Chicago-based litigation partner Michael Padden left for local firm Levenfeld Pearlstein.