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Crowell & Moring Combines with Wall Street Firm Kibbe & Orbe (2)

March 18, 2021, 4:00 PM; Updated: March 18, 2021, 11:27 PM

Crowell & Moring, which has set its sights on strategic expansion, is merging with New York-based boutique Kibbe & Orbe to expand offerings to clients in the financial services industry.

As a part of the combination, 24 lawyers from Kibbe & Orbe, previously known as Richards Kibbe & Orbe, will join Crowell in its New York, London, and Washington offices.

Among those making the jump to Crowell are Jennifer Grady, managing partner and chair of the firm’s executive committee, Andrew Martin, managing partner of the London office, as well as three founding partners, Jonathan Kibbe, William Orbe, and Michael D. Mann.

The addition of Kibbe & Orbe lawyers will help Crowell, a Washington-founded firm known for its work in areas like litigation, regulation, and government contracts, make new inroads into the financial services industry, an area chair Phil Inglima said the firm has been targeting since its move to New York roughly 15 years ago.

Crowell sought to establish a corporate and financial services presence in New York and approached Kibbe & Orbe back when it first opened its office in New York in 2006, but the boutique wasn’t interested at the time, Inglima said. Over the years, Crowell added corporate talent in M&A and built on its antitrust, white collar, and healthcare work, but it never stopped wanting to turn back to a strong financial services focus, he said.

Conversations between the two firms began again last year and accelerated in the fall, Inglima said. The deal is expected to close in April.

“We really feel like we reached the brass ring with this move,” he said.

Richards Kibbe & Orbe was founded in 1990 and grew to nearly 50 lawyers in New York, Washington, and London.

However, in December, 17 of its white collar and securities litigation lawyers in New York and Washington announced they would move to Perkins Coie, including founding partner Lee Richards, who co-founded the Wall Street firm after spending roughly six years in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.

In the wake of the defection, the firm rebranded as Kibbe & Orbe and said it would reorganize into four core practice areas, credit trading and investing, equity investing, regulation compliance and governance, and restructuring and bankruptcy.

Over the years, the boutique firm has represented hedge funds and other private investment funds, investment banks, financial institutions, public and private enterprises, and corporate boards of directors on a range of transactions, structuring issues, and regulatory matters.

According to Crowell, Kibbe & Orbe’s client roster includes six of the top 10 global investment banks and six of the 10 largest private equity funds.

Crowell’s large spectrum of practices and strength in government-facing work complement Kibbe & Orbe’s own practices, Grady said in an interview, and will help clients seeking ever more complex advice on transactions.

“When the timing is right it’s right,” said Grady, a former Simpson Thacher & Bartlett corporate attorney. She joined Kibbe & Orbe in 2004 before being named managing partner of the boutique in 2014.

“As our clients’ investment profile evolves, we just started to see and realize what an incredible opportunity it would be for us to find a platform that had those broader practices,” she said.

In an interview with Bloomberg Law in February, Inglima said that growth through lateral hires and boutique acquisition was a part of Crowell’s agenda after a “very good year” in 2020, with New York, San Francisco, and Washington as its strategic target markets.

The firm had previously tried to make inroads in New York. In 2006 Crowell acquired King Pagano Harrison, which significantly grew its then-recently opened office. Over the years it pursued high-profile mergers with New York-based Herrick Feinstein and Satterlee Stephens, but both of those tie-ups failed to materialize.

“We’ve made no secret for a while that we want to continue growing in New York, this is not the end of that process,” Inglima said.

In its merger with Kibbe & Orbe, Crowell is adding 17 attorneys to its 67-lawyer New York office, which includes 10 partners, 3 of counsel and counsel, and 4 associates. The firm is also adding two partners and four associates in London, an office that has almost tripled in size over the last two years to nearly 30 lawyers, and one partner in Washington.

(Updated with comments from Grady in grafs 13-15)

To contact the reporter on this story: Meghan Tribe in New York at mtribe@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com

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