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Crowell & Moring Hires Attorney Team From Defunct Startup Atrium

April 6, 2020, 4:03 AM

Crowell & Moring has hired four former attorneys from the recently shuttered legal services company Atrium to add to its growing office in San Francisco.

The firm has picked up co-managing Atrium partners Michel Narganes and Matthew Melville as well as founding attorney and former head of Atrium’s venture capital financing team, Jon O’Connell, along with counsel Matt Pelnar. The four, who all had jobs in Big Law prior to joining Atrium, will be part of Crowell & Moring’s emerging companies and venture capital practice group.

“They really understand the venture capital community, they are tapped in,” Phil Inglima, chair of Crowell & Moring, said in an interview. “They had the real benefit of Atrium’s excellent reputation in the emerging company space and that also extends to the venture firms that are often providing the seed and developmental money for these companies.”

Atrium, a much heralded San Francisco-based legal services startup founded by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Justin Kan, dissolved in March. The company combined big firm talent with a software platform to offer startup clients legal services for lower price points than traditional firms.

Inglima said that although the Atrium hires had been in the works well before the coronavirus crisis escalated in the U.S., the partnership did make its final decision on the hires when San Francisco had already been substantially shut down over the virus.

“We made that decision in the face of those circumstances because we believe this is the right thing for our firm and these are the right individuals,” Inglima said.

The market for lateral hires is largely predicted to hit a slowdown due to economic struggles prompted by the coronavirus outbreak. Firms may become more conservative about investing in laterals, although the outlook will vary from firm to firm.

“We have not put a halt to all our lateral expansion planning and we very much are looking at growth opportunities on both coasts, and opportunities still in Europe,” said Inglima, But he said Crowell & Moring is committed to ensuring the proper amount of diligence and alignment in its hires and to respect the “dire circumstances” that may be facing clients.

Digital Strategy

The new hires join a San Francisco office founded in 2009 which now boasts a total of 30 attorneys. Crowell & Moring, a Washington-founded firm often associated with practice areas closely tied to the nation’s capital, like government contracting, has been busy expanding on the West Coast. The firm’s three offices there—it also has outposts in Los Angeles and Orange County—have gone from around 25 to 100 lawyers over the last decade.

The Atrium attorneys, along with another new hire, Steven Ryan, who joins from DLA Piper in Washington, will bolster an ongoing digital transformation initiative at Crowell & Moring.

“As EC/VC attorneys, being on the cutting edge is essential to what we do,” said Narganes. “We were also drawn to [Crowell & Moring’s] strong litigation and regulatory practices since many of our clients are in regulated industries and need advice navigating Washington. This is crucial for emerging companies who need to get smart on regulations earlier and earlier in their life cycles.”

Bloomberg Law reported in March that Narganes and Melville had planned to run a small firm law firm out of what was once Atrium.

“We explored running Atrium Law as a boutique law firm and determined that we can better serve our clients at Crowell,” Melville explained. “Crowell provides the best of both worlds—flexibility on pricing so we can appeal to emerging companies and deep sophistication in numerous practice areas as our clients level up.”

Other lawyers with a tech and digital bent recently hired by Crowell & Moring have included Michelle Gitlitz, who joined the firm from Blank Rome last October and serves as global head of its blockchain and digital assets practice.

The latest team of hires have faced the unique task of starting a brand new job during the Covid-19 outbreak.

O’Connell said the changeover to Crowell & Moring at this time has been beneficial “because Crowell & Moring’s government-facing practices are able to provide real time guidance and business impact advice to clients navigating a myriad of issues associated with the Covid-19 pandemic.”

“Last week alone they had multiple webinars every day on the provisions in the massive $2-trillion stimulus bill,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rebekah Mintzer in New York at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bloomberglaw.com

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