Nancy Wilms and Tiffany Hedgpeth both spent at least 15 years in the downtown L.A. office of Boston’s Bingham McCutchen LLP, representing major clients such as Chevron Corp. and pharmaceutical giant McKesson Corp. as partners in the firm’s environmental litigation group.
But now the two are going small. They’ve jumped from 1,000-attorney Bingham to 10-attorney San Francisco boutique Edgcomb Law Group LLP. The two opened an office for Edgcomb in Burbank last month.
Wilms and Hedgpeth said that while at Bingham, they began feeling pressure to lower their rates from clients such as Canadian fertilizer company Agrium Inc., and found it difficult to go out and compete for new work.
“We would get told, ‘I love working with you, you guys do a great job, but the rates are just too high,’” Wilms said. “Those are the folks that have been excited about our move.”
The two are now charging hourly rates at less than two-thirds of what they were charging at Bingham. A number of clients, including Agrium and Pittsburgh metals company Allegheny Technologies Inc., have followed them to Edgcomb. They will also continue to work with McKesson.
There aren’t many environmental litigation boutiques operating in the L.A. area, but Hedgpeth said that she believed it was “the new normal.”
At Bingham, the departures of Wilms, 54, and Hedgpeth, 43, means further contraction for the firm’s environmental litigation presence in Los Angeles. Last year, Colleen Doyle left for Hunton & Williams LLP and Jill Teraoka left to join the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California as senior deputy general counsel. Four environmental litigation partners remain in the office, including Rick Rothman, office managing partner, and James Dragna, whose clients include Exxon Mobil Corp. and Southern California Edison.
New Transactional Boutique
Downward pressure on hourly rates has also led to an increase in the number of corporate and transactional boutiques formed by attorneys with big law experience. The latest is Century City’s Sklar Kirsh LLP, formed by corporate attorney Jeffrey Sklar and real estate attorney Andrew Kirsh.
Sklar, 40, was formerly an attorney at Century City firm Loeb & Loeb LLP before starting his own shop, Sklar Law PC, in 2010. Kirsh, 37, was previously a partner at Raines Feldman LLP, another new local boutique, and before that worked at Boston firm Goodwin Procter LLP.
The two are charging less than $500 an hour, rates lower than big firms. They will also consider taking equity in a company or in a real estate deal as an alternative arrangement.
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