So far this year, the Los Angeles legal market has been rife with mid-market mergers and intense competition for talented partners with million-dollar client lists.


In April, Newport Beach-based Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth LLP opened a Santa Monica office with three lawyers that had been running the Santa Monica office of rival Newmeyer & Dillon LLP. Stradling landed corporate partner Timothy Silvestre and two associates and Newmeyer closed its office.


Lewis Feldman and 10 attorneys exited Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP for Goodwin Procter LLP. Feldman, the second-most highly paid partner at Pillsbury, brought his top-notch real-estate client portfolio with him. And last month, Rich de Bodo departed from Irell & Manella LLP, one of the country's most respected intellectual property firms, for Hogan & Hartson LLP. De Bodo also took an impressive portfolio of science IP clients to Hogan & Hartson.


All of these moves were generated by recruiter Dan R. Hatch, head of the partner practice at Major Lindsey & Africa LLC.


"I had a pretty good year last year, but it was nothing like this one," Hatch said. Recruiters typically receive a 25 percent take and the majority of his clients earn more than $1 million a year. There's a reason for the flurry of activity, Hatch said.


"The numerous moves in the market are a continuation of a trend where partners value the proliferation of their personal career over lifetime loyalty to a law firm," he said. Contributing to the heated market has been the overall health of the legal industry.


"Most law firms are doing extraordinarily well, with double-digit profit increases, double-digit revenue increases," Hatch said. "Because you have a lot of very successful law firms, you have a number of very successful personal practices," he said. "When people are most successful they have the most amount of options. It's an opportunistic business."


Hatch credits the resources and connections of his firm, with 17 offices worldwide, for his ability to make these moves happen.


"Dan is a person who has a lot of understanding of the legal market as well as the ability to be an honest broker," said Goodwin Proctor's Feldman. "I don't think he's just on a mission to make a commission. I really believe he's in it for the long-term relationships."


Feldman sees stratification as another reason for all of the movement.


"Firms are increasingly separating into different tiers and the most productive and profitable firms are able to attract the most productive and profitable lawyers," he said. "People don't just move for money, but the success of a law firm and the proof, which is oftentimes in its profitability, can be big inducement and highly seductive for change."


Irell Lands Heavy Hitter
Irell & Manella LLP didn't wait long to land a star to join its galaxy after Rich de Bodo's departure. John Hueston, who co-led the prosecutions of Jeffrey Skilling and Kenneth Lay while serving as head of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Santa Ana, will join the firm November 9.


Hueston has been a government prosecutor for 12 years. He has prosecuted stock fraud, trademark infringement and kick-back schemes, but received the most notoriety for his work on the Enron taskforce and a cross-examination style alternately described as "deadly" and "methodical."


Hueston will be a litigation partner in the firm's L.A. and Newport Beach offices. The firm already boasts six former assistant U.S. Attorneys. Hueston will take the lead on trial work, including securities cases, white-collar crime and intellectual property matters.


"Irell & Manella is the firm that companies and even law firms turn to in times of crisis," said Hueston. "I am privileged to be joining a firm increasingly called upon to handle trials that change the legal landscape."


Irell partner Morgan Chu called Hueston "one of the top trial lawyers in the nation."


Not everyone's celebrating. Wayne Gross, chief of the southern division of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles said, "The Dept. of Justice, in my opinion, is losing its finest prosecutor."


Staff reporter Emily Bryson York can be reached at (323)549-5225, ext. 235, or at eyork@labusinessjournal.com .

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