Heller attacked from all sides

Seven Heller laterals aid rival’s rapid expansion

Heller attacked from all sidesWest Coast firm Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton has been on a roll of late – and it is partly thanks to beleagured firm Heller Ehrman.

As TheLawyer.com reported exclusively last Tuesday (2 September), the California-based firm has just hired its seventh former Heller partner this year, the latest being Silicon Valley IP partner Hal Milstein.

There is no doubt this is a case of one firm benefiting from another’s suffering, but for Sheppard Mullin the growing roster of former Heller laterals says as much about its opportunistic culture as it does about the continuing troubles at its rival firm. On the same day that Milstein’s arrival became public, Sheppard Mullin also announced the hire of a three-partner corporate team from Duane Morris in San Diego.

The firm’s recent expansion is the result of a strategic plan launched 18 months ago. This examined the firm’s domestic and global footprints, and concluded it was short in key areas, including Silicon Valley and, internationally, Shanghai.

Since then Sheppard Mullin has launched offices in both, taking advantage of opportunities as they arrive. Having a growing number of happy ex-Heller partners on board who are willing to persuade former colleagues to join has also clearly helped.

But it is Sheppard Mullin’s ­opportunistic approach to expansion that is leaving the obvious question of a European – or specifically a London – launch on a knife-edge.

“We’d jump at the right opportunity in Europe, just as in other jurisdictions,” says media and entertainment partner Ben Mulcahy, “but always in a ­controlled way. We’ve avoided ­merger solicitations from larger firms and won’t open somewhere just because everybody else is.”

As part of the strategic plan, Sheppard Mullin recently created
a ;10-partner ;international ­committee chaired by former Coudert Brothers partner and Shanghai office head David ­Huebner. This committee is charged with ­exploring further overseas ­expansion and, according to ;firmwide ;chairman ;Guy ­Halgren, London is top of the list.

“We’ve identified London as a place we should be, and if you asked me ;where ;we’d ;open ;next ­internationally, I’d say London,” says Halgren. “But there’s no timeline for this – there’s no pressing need. It would be nice to have and would help us serve our clients.”

The key driver for London expansion would be Sheppard Mullin’s finance and bankruptcy practice – in particular the finance part of that group. Any London outpost would also be likely to feature antitrust, international dispute resolution and media and entertainment.

The latter is a significant part of Sheppard Mullin’s practice stateside and the firm has recently looked to London to strengthen its team.

Earlier this year the firm hired English lawyer Phil Daniels from Beverly Hills media boutique Goldring Hertz & Lichtenstein. Before heading out west, the Nottingham Law School-educated Daniels ­practised with London media and entertainment boutique Lee & Thompson and was also in-house at BBC Worldwide.

The month before Daniels’ arrival, Sheppard Mullin hired entertainment lawyer Robb Klein as special counsel from SJ Berwin, where he was a partner. While the arrival of neither lawyer presaged a London launch, the firm is adamant that there are opportunities in the London market.

“London’s important to us,” says Kevin Goering, a partner in the business trial practice group, who focuses primarily on media and publishing litigation. “We’ve ­certainly talked about opening an office in London, but the problem is, what happens to the relationships?”

In the media and fashion ­market, another strong area for the firm, Sheppard Mullin has solid referral relationships with several firms, including Davenport Lyons, Fox Williams, Lewis Silkin, Osborne Clarke, Reynolds Porter Chamberlain, SJ Berwin and Wiggin. Clearly, the firm will be thinking hard before putting such an extensive list at risk, as well as those it has in finance – but do not rule it out.