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Monday, May 23, 2022

Senior Partner Defection Puts Firm’s Future in Question

Senior Partner Defection Puts Firm’s Future in Question


Staff Reporter

Attorneys at Lyon & Lyon LLP will have much to reflect on during the firm’s annual partnership retreat this month. Like their future.

The century-old L.A.-based intellectual property law firm recently lost senior partner and rainmaker Robert Weiss to Jones Day Reavis & Pogue, almost a year after Lyon’s proposed merger with the Los Angeles office of Jones Day went sour. Weiss is the ninth partner to leave 100-attorney Lyon & Lyon in the past year.

All this comes as general practice firms have moved in on smaller players like Lyon & Lyon by recruiting attorneys and acquiring intellectual property practices.

Michael Wise, a member of Lyon & Lyon’s six-person executive committee and chairman of the life sciences practice group, said the partnership meeting would address the firm’s budget and other topics, but that the discussions will be relatively “uneventful” in terms of addressing the past year’s changes.

But former Lyon attorneys and industry sources say that a major restructuring, at the least, is in order for the firm’s survival.

“From what we’ve heard, we think the issues that are going to be discussed go to the core of the firm and whether this firm exists or takes some other form,” said Alan Miles, a local executive search consultant who places partners.

At issue are internal conflicts within Lyon & Lyon, according to Edward Poplawski, a partner and head of the West Coast intellectual property practice at Sidley Austin Brown & Wood LLP in L.A. and a long-time observer of IP boutiques.

“Lyon & Lyon is clearly an institution,” Poplawski said. “They’ve already gone through one or two generational changes where a new group of partners takes over management. I would anticipate that Lyon & Lyon is going through another generational change in management at a time when there is upheaval in the marketplace. So, as in any business, there might be diverging views on how to go forward.”

Lyon & Lyon has prosecuted or defended a number of patents during its long lifetime, including the original Mickey Mouse of the 1930s, a synchronized tremolo device on the 1954 Fender Stratocaster guitar, an innovation that inactivates the AIDS virus in therapeutic products made from blood, the Rolex watch, Mag Instruments Inc.’s Maglite flashlight and the Rain Bird lawn sprinkler.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, intellectual property boutiques were built on prosecution, or the legal work involved in obtaining a patent or trademark, Poplawski said. As they grew, some took on litigation work. But the current shortfall in large litigation matters is beginning to cause problems at Lyon & Lyon.

Promotions to partner

“If I were to place a bet, I’d place a bet that Lyon & Lyon will survive and prosper, but the practice will be different,” said Bruce Chapman, who is now a partner at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges LLP.

Besides Weiss and Chapman, Lyon & Lyon lost seven other partners firmwide in the last year, five in L.A.

Christopher Vanderlaan and Carol Schneider left to join Irell & Manella LLP in L.A. Last November, William Steffin joined the L.A. office of Cleveland-based Squire Sanders & Dempsey. Allan Jansen and former managing partner Robert Dickerson joined Jones Day, as well.

The fall-outs began last year after a proposed merger with Jones Day fell apart.

Rick McKnight, managing partner of Jones Day, said there were preliminary discussions for months with Lyon & Lyon’s executive committee, but a client conflict prevented the talks from continuing.

Wise first characterized the discussions in a different way. He said a number of attorneys were interested in merging with the Jones Day office, but that those discussions “never came up to the partnership level.”

Asked how Jones Day’s McKnight managed to meet with the Lyon & Lyon executive committee, Wise revised his statement, saying, “There was a consideration with Jones Day, and it never went anywhere because the firm wants to be an independent intellectual property firm.”

Attracting clients

Chapman said he left “because it was an opportunity to really develop a first-class patent litigation practice. I’ve seen that since I’ve come here. It’s easier to get big patent litigation than it was at Lyon & Lyon. The type of case hasn’t changed but the ability to sell a company on coming to the firm has changed. It’s an easier sell.”

Wise said the firm has no interest in merging right now, despite many offers. But it may have options other than merging, such as sharing clients with other firms through alliances or shifting its practice to prosecution, which generally includes filing the applications and other work needed to obtain a patent.

Either way, the firm may have to reduce its work force.

“If you’re an 80-lawyer specialty firm and your litigation load is going down, you have an emerging manpower problem,” Poplawski said. “Where do you put these lawyers to work?”

In the past few weeks, a number of lawyers have left Lyon & Lyon, although Wise declined to say whether the departures involved layoffs. “We don’t comment on the reasons for lawyers leaving the firm, for obvious reasons,” he said.

Lyon & Lyon LLP

Founded: 1901 by Frederick Lyon, joined by his son Leonard Lyon in 1919

Headquarters: Los Angeles

Offices: 6

Attorneys: 110

Practices: Prosecution and litigation for trademarks, copyrights, patents and other intellectual property

Past patent work: The original 1930s Mickey Mouse, device on the Fender Stratocaster guitar from 1954, invention that inactivates AIDS virus in therapeutic products from blood, the Rolex watch, the Rain Bird lawn sprinkler, and Mag Instrument Inc.’s Maglite.

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