President Clinton aide Mickey Kantor is returning to the downtown L.A. office of Mayer Brown LLP after spending the previous eight years working primarily from the firm's Washington, D.C., outpost.

In an effort to boost Mayer Brown's profile in Los Angeles, the firm tapped Kantor and fellow political lions Robert Hertzberg and Philip Recht, and litigators Neil Soltman and Marc Harris to sit on an executive committee that will manage the local office.

The group, which officially takes charge this month, is a new approach for the Chicago firm. Mayer Brown's other 20 offices only have one managing partner.

Kantor said the firm formed the committee to recruit high-profile lawyers.

"I am doing this because I think I can be helpful in building our presence in L.A., and a strong, viable office," said Kantor, the former U.S. Trade representative and U.S. secretary of commerce in the Clinton administration.

Initially, the firm plans to focus on recruiting attorneys who practice environmental law and administrative law, and in the real estate and corporate fields.

Hertzberg, a former Assembly speaker, said firm leaders are putting greater emphasis on the office partly because the L.A. market is connected to the Pacific Rim a region where Mayer Brown is looking to strengthen its footprint.

"The most successful international law firms all have an L.A. presence," he said.

Serving on the executive committee also gives Hertzberg the chance to work alongside his longtime mentor, Kantor. The two have known each other since Hertzberg was 18 and a travel aide for Mervyn Dymally, a former California lieutenant governor.

"I love working with Mickey," Hertzberg said. "He is a talented guy."

Outward Bound

After working in the legal department of Wells Fargo & Co. for nine years, Bradley Wolf decided to join downtown L.A. firm Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP.

Wolf made the move because he wanted to hone his skills as a financial attorney at a law firm where his experience working on loan restructurings, workouts, and debt and equity investments would be valued in the down economy.

"There is a demand right now for workout and bankruptcy attorneys and Sheppard seemed to provide me with an excellent fit," said Wolf, who joined the firm in February as special counsel in its downtown office.

When company attorneys leave for firms, they bring the ability to build business.

"When you are a vendor of services, it brings you into contact with people in your area and many different types of customers and clients who can then be converted into clients in a law firm environment," said Peter Ocko, a recruiter in the downtown L.A. office of Major Lindsey & Africa LLC. Ocko brokered Wolf's move to Sheppard Mullin.

Another example is Theresa Marchlewski, who left her post as an in-house attorney at Washington Mutual to join the downtown L.A. office of Jackson Lewis LLP two weeks ago as partner. Marchlewski worked for six years at Washington Mutual, where she oversaw the bank's litigation matters in the Southwest and Western United States.

Marchlewski is already working on cases for Jackson Lewis' clients, and she said they appreciate her ability to recognize their legal needs.

"I think that you understand the kind of service levels they are looking for, and how, as an outside counsel, you can best help them handle their legal problems," she said. "I have had one client say, 'You speak my language.'"

Bankruptcy Boom

New York and Wilmington, Del., may be the top venues for corporate bankruptcy filings, but some L.A. attorneys are ranked highly by the amount of such cases they handle.

In the listings of individual attorneys, Thomas Leanse, a partner in the Century City office of Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP, ranked No. 2, by the Deal LLC, a business and financial news service. He had 67 new bankruptcy cases in 2008.

Leanse clients include landlords with claims against liquidated retailers. His most prominent clients are shopping mall owners Macerich Co. and Westfield LLC, which have numerous cases involving bankrupt tenants.

"Most of our clients are developers, landlords or lenders," Leanse said. "And when they have tenants that have filed for bankruptcy, we have a practice that requires us to travel all over the country to represent the clients' interest."

The Deal ranked L.A.-area firms Pachulski Stang Ziehl & Jones LLP and Latham & Watkins LLP at Nos. 6 and 7, respectively. Pachulski took on 16 new bankruptcy cases in 2008; Latham 15.

Pachulski Stang lawyers represented the group of unsecured creditors in the Circuit City Stores Inc. bankruptcy case.

Latham lawyer Peter Gilhuly, a partner in the firm's downtown L.A. office, is representing Forever 21 Inc., the largest prospective buyer of real estate in the Mervyns LLC bankruptcy proceedings.

Staff reporter Alexa Hyland can be reached at ahyland@labusinessjournal.com or at (323) 549-5225, ext. 235.

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