US practices struck by defections

San Francisco firm Morrison & Foerster and New York firm White & Case have been hit by the departures of top-level partners and assistants.

A five-partner team and 12 associates left the Manhattan office of Morrison & Foerster to join 83-partner New York firm Chadbourne & Parke. And 14 lawyers exchanged the litigation department of White & Case for that of Dewey Ballantine.

The Morrison team, which specialises in mergers and acquisitions and securities work, represented one quarter of Morrison & Foerster's 24-partner New York office and is reported to control between $15-20 million in yearly billings.

Leading the team is Dennis J Friedman, reputedly the firm's highest-paid lawyer. US sources claim he was earning up to $1 million dollars a year.

However, the team is expected to earn more at Chadbourne, with sources indicating that Friedman has secured an unusual $1.5 million annual deal guaranteed for two years.

Carl Whitaker, Morrison & Foerster spokesman, says: “We are very disappointed to lose them. They're a very successful group, but we are still very strong in New York.”

The firm will rebuild its mergers and acquisitions presence in Manhattan, focusing on two areas – Japanese and Latin American corporate clients, and high technology, says Whitaker.

Friedman has refused to comment on reports made in the 'New York Law Journal' that he had been shopping his team around to other firms for several months prior to the move.

Reasons behind the team's move include remuneration and the firm's tendency to manage the office from San Francisco, says the journal.

Clients include investment banks Merrill Lynch, Paine Webber and Smith Barney.

Meanwhile eight White & Case litigation partners and around six associates, reportedly with around $15 million in annual billings, have departed for Dewey Ballantine. The White & Case team included litigation department head Richard Reinthaler.

“It's a significant loss to White & Case, and a significant acquisition for Deweys,” says a New York legal consultant.

The move increases the number of Deweys' litigation partners world-wide by more than one third.

But it is a small proportion of the 120-odd lawyer litigation department at White & Case, says a spokeswoman for the firm.

“We were sorry to see them go and wish them the best of luck, ” she says. “Our litigation department is very strong and growing, with close to 20 partners from other firms joining in the last few months.”

White & Case has poached three lawyers from the Prague office of Squire Sanders & Dempsey. Capital markets and energy lawyer Jan Matejcek leads the team which includes Czech lawyer Ivan Cestr and international tax lawyer Oliver Brahmst.