BuckleySandler LLP is only four years old, but the upstart Washington, D.C., firm has landed two heavy hitters in its Santa Monica office with the addition of Richard Gottlieb and Fredrick Levin from Detroit’s Dykema Gossett PLLC.

The two previously worked in Dykema’s Midwest offices – Gottlieb in Chicago, Levin in Detroit – and are considered big players in the world of financial services litigation. Gottlieb said he had the largest book of business among the 300-plus attorneys at Dykema for the last seven years running, though he declined to give a dollar figure.

He said he was in advanced negotiations to join another major law firm when a client encouraged him to call BuckleySandler’s chairman, Andrew Sandler. Then things moved quickly. He called Sandler on Friday, July 12, flew to Washington to interview that Saturday, pulled Levin into the deal Sunday and started work at the firm Monday.

Gottlieb, who specializes in class-action defense of financial institutions, will initially split time between the Chicago and Santa Monica offices, but plans eventually to go full time in Santa Monica, citing his Southern California client base and the large amount of mortgage litigation in the region.

His clients include Bank of America, PennyMac, Pasadena’s OneWest Bank, and financial institutions in Torrance and Irvine. He has kept an L.A. apartment since 2010 and passed the California Bar earlier this year. Levin is also expected to work in Santa Monica full time after initially splitting time between Santa Monica and Chicago.

“There are natural synergies between what I do and what’s happening in California,” Gottlieb said, “and it was a matter of practice development to be out in California where the action was.”

Clint Rockwell, managing partner of the Santa Monica office, said the firm had been looking to expand its litigation practice here and also complement the firm’s work with financial institutions.

Rockwell opened the office for what was then Buckley Kolar in Century City in 2007. The firm merged with Sandler in 2009 and the office moved to Santa Monica. It has since grown to about 20 attorneys. The additions of Gottlieb and Levin offset the recent loss of Donna L. Wilson, who had headed the firm’s West Coast litigation practice. Wilson moved to West L.A.’s Manatt Phelps & Phillips LLP.

Growing Patent Practice

It might not yet be a national patent litigation heavyweight like Irell & Manella LLP, but West L.A.’s Russ August & Kabat LLP has quietly grown a sizable patent practice of its own.

In fact, about half of the firm’s roughly 25 patent attorneys hail from Century City’s Irell, including practice leader Marc Fenster, who has more than doubled his group’s head count from about 10 attorneys two years ago. The patent group now makes up most of the boutique firm’s 30-plus attorneys. Last month, Fenster added a new partner in Brian Ledahl, another Irell alumnus.

“Morgan does kid me about sending me training bills,” Fenster said, referring to noted Irell Partner Morgan Chu.

Fenster has built a practice group that focuses on plaintiff work and flexible fees. About 80 percent of the group’s cases are billed with alternative fee arrangements, usually a hybrid of a fixed rate and contingency. His clients include companies such as TiVo as well as groups of patent holders called nonpracticing entities – sometimes derisively called “patent trolls.”

“A niche I saw in the market was for a really high-quality plaintiffs’ practice that was on a more flexible platform, meaning not tied only to an hourly billing rate and without conflicts, which is what you get with most of the big firms,” he said.

Ledahl, who worked together with Fenster at Irell during the 1990s, cited his new firm’s strengths in patent and entertainment litigation as a draw.

“This is growing to be a very vibrant patent practice and there’s a lot of excitement around that,” Ledahl said.

Westward Expansion

Denver’s Messner Reeves LLP has opened an office in Los Angeles. Instead of starting with local hires, it opted to send over two of its Denver partners, Robert Hinckley Jr. and Travis Uhlenhopp, to open an outpost in Brentwood.

Hinckley, the new office’s managing partner, said the firm was drawn out West because of the significant California presence of clients such as Denver’s Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. About a half-dozen of the firm’s more than 40 attorneys are licensed in California and the firm wanted its own people on the ground floor of its new outpost.

“It’s not as appealing to bring somebody in that we have no familiarity with or no comfort level with and have them open up an office for us,” Hinckley said.

Lee Charged

Justin M. Lee, a Koreatown immigration attorney who has been accused of defrauding clients and was arrested in South Korea last month, has been formally charged with fraud by prosecutors in Seoul, according to the Korea Daily newspaper. Stateside, he faces client lawsuits and a complaint by the State Bar of California.

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

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