Since ending his tenure as California’s attorney general in 1991, John Van de Kamp had worked as an attorney at Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP’s downtown L.A. office. But when the New York firm’s financial troubles began making headlines, friends at other law firms reached out to offer him a place to land.

One of those overtures came from Mickey Kantor, former U.S. secretary of commerce, and Philip Recht, former deputy administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Kantor and Recht now work in the downtown office of Mayer Brown LLP, which has a strong government affairs practice that recruits former government officials.

As the situation at Dewey worsened and attorneys were encouraged to find jobs elsewhere, Van de Kamp finally decided to leave and chose to land at Mayer Brown, joining its downtown office as of counsel May 11.

“There were people I knew and wanted to work with,” he said. “There was also a convenience factor: I live in Pasadena and did not want to move to a Century City firm.”

The 76-year-old Van de Kamp, who served as Los Angeles County district attorney from 1975 to 1981 and as state attorney general from 1983 until 1991, will continue to work as an independent reform monitor at the city of Vernon. He also handles mediation and arbitration matters. He will likely work with Mayer Brown’s government and global trade group, representing private companies in their dealings with government agencies.

Recht, who is also the downtown office’s managing partner, said Van de Kamp brings a wealth of experience.

“He’s really one of the icons of the legal profession,” he said. “He strengthens us in a number of our practices, on the litigation side and our government and global trade group.”

New Shoes

Casey Fleck is trading in one pair of white shoes for another. The 39-year-old, considered a top up-and-coming corporate partner, jumped this month from the downtown L.A. office of corporate law powerhouse Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom LLP to downtown firm Latham & Watkins LLP.

Fleck’s clients include Visa Inc., which he helped go public in 2008, and Wynn Resorts Ltd., for which he has worked on financing transactions.

Fleck had worked with Latham attorneys before – the firm represented an underwriter on some of Wynn’s transactions – and said his move grew out of a number of conversations with friends at the firm.

“I have known many of the lawyers at Latham for years. The ability to join them became an opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” he said.

Jim Beaubien, managing partner at Latham’s downtown office, said the firm had been keeping an eye on Fleck.

“We’ve really watched him grow up as a lawyer over the last 10 years,” Beaubien said. “He’s about to enter the sweet spot of his career and we thought he would make a tremendous addition to our platform.”

Fleck is the second partner to join Latham’s downtown office from Skadden Arps in recent months. Greg Robins joined the firm’s banking practice in March.

Starting from Scratch

When attorney Veronika Melamed left a Calabasas family law firm to start her own, she wanted to leave on good terms. So she decided not to bring over any business and opened her Melamed Law Group in January with zero clients.

“It’s difficult to go on your own without clients,” she said. “But I was fortunate to receive referrals from other attorneys and former clients.”

She had set aside money to start her own Beverly Hills firm, with which she paid for overhead at her office for the first couple months. By March, she was able to meet overhead with her legal billings.

“I knew then that I would be OK,” she said.

Melamed, 38, handles a variety of family law work, including divorces, paternity matters, and premarital and postmarital agreements, for clients with annual incomes usually ranging between $100,000 and $700,000.

She said state budget cuts and changes in divorce law expanding the testimony given by minors and litigants have complicated and lengthened family law cases. That means cases can potentially be more expensive for clients, so she offers alternative fee arrangements, and has turned more to mediators and private judges. At the same time, clients in this economy are being more cost-conscious.

“Clients have left behind those days when they had $60,000 to put toward their divorce,” she said. “The financial mentality of clients has changed.”

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

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