Chicago Market for Laterals Picking Up

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More Chicago partners are jumping to new law firms or seriously contemplating a move after a year in which demand for profitable partners outstripped the number willing to leave stable positions, the city’s recruiters and law firm managers said. Lawyers are more willing to take the risk as they see an uptick in client demand in the corporate, litigation and transactional areas.

So far this year, big moves include DLA Piper’s hiring of Marc Horwitz, who was the head of Baker & McKenzie’s North American derivatives practice; and Jenner & Block’s hiring back of corporate partner David Savner from General Dynamics Corp., where he had been general counsel.

“2009 was a year of paralysis for everybody,” said William Rudnick, the managing partner of DLA’s Chicago office. “Now, there’s a sense of stability returning so I think people are willing to look at new opportunities.”

“2010 will not be a dead year,” agreed Amy McCormack, a legal recruiter who leads her own Chicago-based firm, McCormack & Schreiber.

The recent disclosures of 2009 results are providing a clearer view of how various firms are weathering the recession, Rudnick said. Partners are better able to judge whether a firm was cutting costs and lawyers last year out of desperation or careful, forward-looking management, he said.

Some major firms in the city are beefing up core practice areas, while other newer entrants, such as Quarles & Brady, are generally building up their offices in the Midwest’s biggest city. Chicago’s largest lateral move last year may well have been the merger of Chicago-based Bell, Boyd & Lloyd into K&L Gates, which brought the latter firm 122 new partners. K&L Gates tops The American Lawyer’s list of firms with the most lateral partner hires in 2009. John Cashman, a recruiter and practice manager in Chicago for Major, Lindsey & Africa, predicted that other firms would open offices in Chicago this year.

Cashman said that lateral hiring is heating up across all practice areas, with a particular acceleration in transactional work, litigation and bankruptcy.

DLA’s office in Chicago is seeking partners in the corporate, mergers and acquisitions, commercial litigation, intellectual property, and labor and employment areas, Rudnick said. The firm wants to keep expanding in the city partly because its roots in the market give it an edge, he said.

In addition to the Horwitz hire this month, DLA last month brought on Ralph Dudziak, a former Mayer Brown partner who specializes in complex equipment leasing and lending transactions, and Gregory Hayes, a former associate general counsel at Chicago-based mall owner General Growth Properties Inc. The firm has several other lateral conversations under way, Rudnick said.

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