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Before Dentons-McKenna Merger, Departures

April 30, 2015, 11:59 PM

In early April, Timothy Tosta watched as his law firm McKenna Long & Aldridge announced it would merge into the much larger, global behemoth Dentons. Tosta felt he had little choice but to put himself on the lateral market.

“I’m still living out of boxes and trying to find out how to use different systems,” said Tosta, who joined Arent Fox this week. “It’s a colossal pain in the ass to change.”

At the time of the merger, McKenna Long chairman Jeff Haidet said only that “the vast majority” of the 400 lawyers at his firm would join Dentons, leaving open the possibility that dozens of its lawyers would decamp. It now appears that McKenna will face a string of high-profile departures: In addition to Tosta, Big Law Business has learned from multiple sources that a group of up to 20 government contract, white collar defense and other lawyers primarily from its Washington, D.C. office plan to join Covington & Burling, and the former managing partner of the Los Angeles office, whose practice is focused on entertainment, plans to join Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman.

The situation illustrates one downside to the wave of mergers that have swept the legal industry in recent years and resulted in mega-firms with thousands of lawyers scattered around the world: Although firm management often market such deals as a way for partners to grow their internal referral network, some lawyers find practicing at a vastly larger firm disadvantageous. The result can be an exodus of talent from the firm.

Dentons’ CEO Elliott Portnoy told Big Law Business in an email that the departures were anticipated, and had even been planned prior to the firms’ partners voting to approve the merger: “Bottom line is that there is no news here,” said Portnoy.

Ellen Musante, chief marketing officer for McKenna Long, added, “As we noted when we announced our merger, not all lawyers and professionals plan to join the combined firm.”

Dentons is the biggest law firm in the world and after its merger with McKenna Long, it will be a network of vereins that unite somewhere in the range of 6,600 lawyers including roughly 1,000 in the U.S. In contrast, the departing lawyers joined smaller firms: Covington has nearly 900 lawyers, Pillsbury has approximately 600 lawyers and Arent Fox has approximately 350 lawyers.

For Tosta, Dentons’ vast size was a deterrent: He advises technology companies and developers, mainly in the Bay Area, who need large scale land use entitlements to build their offices; each project generally takes four to five years.

Working at a firm with more lawyers would increase the risk of a conflict, he said, adding each conflict puts an estimated 10 to 20 percent of his business in jeopardy. It had always left a bad taste in his mouth when it happened before: “I couldn’t take on a technology company ... over a friggin patent,” he said.

“You’d have to get a waiver and if nobody is going to grant a waiver you’re going to give it up. I’m in a part of my career where things are working nicely and easily.”

The other lawyers leaving McKenna Long include Kathy Jorrie, who had been the managing partner of the Los Angeles office although that title appears to have been deleted from her website bio in the past week.

Jorrie, a trademark infringement lawyer, also has handled a number of transactional matters including – according to the firm website – acting as the lead attorney to one of the founding investors in The Weinstein Company and has prepared promotional agreements for Paul McCartney, the Eagles and a host of other marquee acts. She declined to comment for this article. Below is a screenshot of her bio from last week.

[caption id="attachment_1799" align="alignleft” width="604"][Image “” (src=]Jorrie Screen capture[/caption]

The lawyers joining Covington & Burling include Fred Levy, McKenna Long’s recent government contracts chairman, and Michael Scheininger, head of the firm’s white collar practice. A handful of the lawyers who are joining had voice messages that acknowledged their move to Covington, including Scheininger, and Ray Biagini, the head of McKenna’s product liability defense practice.

Some legal experts said it is unclear how the mega law firms will fare in the years ahead. “I’ve never believed in growth for growth’s sake,” said Bruce MacEwen, president of Adam Smith Esq, LLC, a legal consulting firm. “I just think the jury is out and the only sane thing you can say about Dentons is check back in three years.”