After getting hit with a $10 million malpractice verdict stemming from the actions of a retired partner, 30-attorney downtown L.A. law firm Rutter Hobbs & Davidoff LLP dissolved Jan. 31.

Before that, the attorneys sized up places to land, and a group of 23 planned to jump to Century City’s Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinger LLP. But not all of them made the move. Two of them ended up backing out of Greenberg and going to the year-old L.A. office of Barnes & Thornburg LLP, reportedly due to client conflicts. Furthermore, one of the architects of the Greenberg move, Brian Davidoff, was also prevented from joining immediately due to a litigation conflict.

Davidoff, 55, has started his own firm of eight former Rutter Hobbs attorneys, Davidoff Gold LLP, and has subleased space from Greenberg’s office. Once the litigation matter that is preventing the move is over – which could be anywhere from 30 to 120 days – he plans to rejoin his former colleagues at Greenberg.

The new attorneys will strengthen the labor and employment, business litigation and bankruptcy practices at Greenberg, a Century City firm known for its entertainment litigation work.

“The things that Greenberg does are the things that Rutter Hobbs did not do and vice versa,” Davidoff said.

Meanwhile, 13 former Rutter Hobbs attorneys have already settled in at Greenberg.

Among them is 65-year-old business litigation partner Fred Fenster.

“The attorneys at Rutter Hobbs & Davidoff had a special bond with each other and we wanted to stick together,” he said. “We wanted to go to a firm that was Los Angeles based. That was where our client sweet spot was, in midmarket companies.”

Downtown Growth

Since Chicago-based Seyfarth Shaw LLP opened up a second L.A. office downtown in 2009, most of the firm’s growth in Los Angeles has been in the new outpost.

The downtown office has grown from 19 to 51 attorneys, helping boost the overall headcount here to roughly 140 attorneys.

The latest to join the downtown office is a group of real estate attorneys from DLA Piper LLP led by Rich Mendelson. The group of three partners and three associates nearly doubles the size of Seyfarth’s real estate practice in Los Angeles.

Mendelson, 57, said that he was looking forward to helping develop the real estate practice and that several attorneys he knew at the firm helped recruit him.

“The firm has a really strong transactional practice, and that’s a great fit for what we do,” said Mendelson.

They bring with them a client list that includes Layton-Belling & Associates, New York Life Insurance Co. and Regents of the University of California.

In November, the firm brought in James Clough, a corporate attorney who previously worked at Costa Mesa’s Rutan & Tucker LLP, and last month added securities litigation partner Frank Burke from Steptoe & Johnson LLP.

“This is part of a continuous process that our firm has been involved in: growing out our transactional and business practices over the last several years,” said Ray Kepner, managing partner of the downtown office.

The move also marks the latest defection from DLA Piper’s real estate practice in Los Angeles, which lost three attorneys to Davis Wright Tremaine LLP’s downtown office last month.

A Loopy Idea

In 2003, Tom Zuber and Olivier Taillieu left their jobs as associates at downtown L.A. firm O’Melveny & Myers LLP and founded Zuber & Taillieu LLP. But they quickly became frustrated with the software they were using to manage documents, billing and other functions for their fledgling law firm. So they started designing their own.

The result, three years later, is Lawloop.com, which launched last month at New York’s LegalTech conference.

The new product is a cloud-based service that manages documents, note-tagging and contacts for attorneys, and allows attorneys to collaborate by sharing documents. Co-CEOs Zuber and Taillieu plan to add other functions, such as billing management, in the coming months.

The goal is for attorneys using Lawloop to ultimately need no software on their computers other than an Internet browser and word processor. They call it a cheaper and more user-friendly alternative to other legal software options, especially for smaller firms.

“We really built this because we wanted to use it,” 39-year-old Zuber said. “I learned to really hate the software available to us. It was way too expensive and each component was incompatible with other components.”

Zuber and Taillieu said that they now split their time between two floors, one for their 27-attorney law firm and the other for the 17-employee tech startup. They’ve stepped down as managing partners of the law firm, which is now run by committee.

“We spend most of our time on Lawloop now,” Taillieu said.

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

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