EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been changed from the print version to clarify that Ken Sulzer said large law firms had de-emphasized labor and employment lawyers prior to the financial crisis, not "entertainment" lawyers.

Proskauer Rose LLP has landed a big name with the hiring of attorney Ken Sulzer from Seyfarth Shaw LLP.

Sulzer, 51, joins the New York firm’s Century City office as co-head of its California labor and employment law group. He said Proskauer had been trying to get him onboard for 10 years.

“I finally said yes,” said Sulzer, who estimated his book of business averaged between $5 million and $7 million in recent years.

He said large law firms had de-emphasized labor and employment lawyers prior to the financial crisis because of their lower rates, but then reversed course once litigation picked up during the downturn.

“Large firms saw the somewhat countercyclical nature of the labor and employment practice,” he said. “A number of firms are diving back into the lateral market.”

Michael Woronoff, head of the firm’s L.A. office, said the outpost is expanding. Attorney head count has increased by more than one-third since 2007 to more than 80 attorneys, and the firm continues to look for attorneys on both the transactional and litigation sides.

“The office is on a huge upswing,” Woronoff said. “We’re looking to add any place where we can get high-quality people.”

In other attorney moves in labor and employment practices, Seyfarth Shaw took Elisabeth Watson from Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP while Gibson Dunn recruited Catherine Conway away from Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP.

Growing in Downturn

Another firm that’s been effective in growing since the downturn is Alston & Bird LLP. The Atlanta firm opened a downtown L.A. office by acquiring local firm Weston Benshoof in September 2008, mere weeks before the failure of Lehman Bros., a turning point in the financial crisis that triggered the recession.

Despite the unfortunate timing, the firm has grown from about 60 attorneys then to some 85 attorneys today. Last week, it announced the hiring of Matthew J. Wrysinski, a former partner at the Century City office of McGuireWoods LLP. That followed the hiring in March of another finance partner, David A. Barksdale, away from Ballard Spahr LLP’s Century City office. The new partners brought along other attorneys from their old firms, roughly doubling the number of Alston’s global finance attorneys in the L.A. area to 10.

“The firm traditionally in its other offices has extremely large finance groups,” said Thomas Wingard, partner in charge of the L.A. office. “In L.A. we are looking to replicate that success.”

Wrysinski, 33, said his practice has shifted from representing mostly banks to representing private-equity borrowers as well. He moved to Alston because it could better support his work on both sides.

“As borrower work became more important, I needed a balance between banking and private equity,” he said.

His clients include local private-equity firms CounterPoint Capital Partners LLC and Platinum Equity LLC.

Staying Small

Duncan McCreary and Matt Eanet met as associates at seven-attorney L.A. boutique Reeder Lu LLP.

But Reeder Lu was acquired by Minneapolis-based Robins Kaplan Miller & Ciresi LLP in May of last year. Eanet ended up not making the jump. He convinced McCreary to join him in their own boutique, and the two signed the partnership agreement over lunch at John O’Groats on Pico Boulevard.

“I just sat down with him and said, ‘Let’s do this,’” Eanet said.

The new firm, Eanet McCreary LLP, opened its doors in Brentwood in February. It focuses on representing businesses, commercial real estate investors and public entities in litigation. The two plan to charge flexible rates that are lower than what they charged previously.

Eanet, 33, had also previously worked at Manatt Phelps & Phillips LLP and didn’t like the idea of going back to a big firm.

“I had already been at a large law firm and it wasn’t the experience I wanted,” he said. “I wanted something where I would have more control.”

McCreary, 38, expressed similar sentiments.

“I liked the opportunity of building something from the ground up,” he said.

The two said that it’s been a smoother start than they expected and will hire a third attorney sooner than they were planning.

“We were projecting the first few months as being pretty difficult,” Eanet said. “Not to say it hasn’t been scary, but it’s been a lot busier than we projected.”

Staff reporter Alfred Lee can be reached at alee@labusinessjournal.com or at (323) 549-5225, ext. 221.

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