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Husch Blackwell Raids Dentons For 21-Lawyer California Team (1)

April 1, 2021, 11:01 AMUpdated: April 1, 2021, 3:47 PM

Husch Blackwell has hired a 21-lawyer mass tort and litigation practice group from international megafirm Dentons, becoming the latest Big Law operation to enter the California market.

The group hire enables new offices in the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas, bringing to more than 20 the number of Husch Blackwell locations in the U.S. The group’s first day is Thursday, which coincides with Catherine Hanaway’s first official day as chair of Husch Blackwell.

While a bevy of Big Law firms lured by technology companies have recently flocked to the Golden State in search of a foothold, the Husch Blackwell group hire points to a different but lucrative market in one of the most heavily regulated U.S. states—product liability and mass tort litigation.

The firm has a well-known practice handling complex, large-volume cases such as asbestos defense. It won an industry award last year by using a technology solution to help cut by 30% a client’s nationwide legal spending on asbestos claims.

Husch Blackwell, founded in Kansas City, Mo., pulled in more than $417 million in revenue in 2020—a nearly 10% increase from 2019.

Lisa Oberg, an Oakland-based partner joining Husch Blackwell from Dentons, said in an interview the tight-knit group was drawn to Husch Blackwell’s presence in the practice, its collaborative culture, and the firm’s technology that underpins the large-volume practice her new team brings.

Brad DeJardin, a Los Angeles partner making the move, said in an interview the group was attracted by the chance to be the “go-to” lawyers for Husch Blackwell’s existing partners and clients in California.

“Husch Blackwell has a lot of clients, and a lot of their clients do business in what would be the fifth largest economy in the world if it was its own country,” DeJardin said. “And we want to be here to deliver for the needs of those clients.”

For its part, Dentons has been actively seeking U.S. law firms in smaller cities to combine with through its “Project Golden Spike” program that seeks to build what it calls the first “truly national” U.S. firm.

Oberg said she was “fascinated and impressed” by the scope and vision of Dentons as a law firm. But the group did not frequently use the international capabilities offered by a firm that as of October operated in 77 countries.

“We have found that we do not have a lot of cause to look at the international presence or the ability to practice in different countries and jurisdictions,” Oberg said. “The complex tort litigation we do is really an American invention.”

Lisa Sachdev, a Dentons spokeswoman, said the firm appreciated the lawyers’ contributions from their toxic torts case portfolio.

“As Dentons continues to evolve and grow our robust products liability practice, we agree and fully support that this move makes sense for this tight-knit team,” Sachdev said. “We wish them and their new firm all the best.”

The group includes 10 partners. DeJardin, Frederic Norris, Kelvin Wyles, and Jules Zeman are based in Los Angeles. The Bay Area partners include Oberg, Lynne Patricia Blair, Michelle Jackson, Jennifer Lee, Michael Sandgren, and Christopher Wood.

In addition to being a rare woman-chaired firm with Hanaway, Husch Blackwell stands out among Big Law firms for having a CEO, Paul Eberle, who does not possess a law degree. The firm was among the first to pioneer a full-time remote work program known as “The Link.”

Hanaway said the new group’s ability to manage large caseloads efficiently was in-line with capabilities the firm has developed internally, including offering alternative fees in many of those large cases.

“That is something Husch has I believe gotten very good at and I think it’s something Lisa and Brad and the rest of the team are also very good at,” Hanaway said. “That was very much in-sync between Husch and this group.”

(Adds statement from Dentons spokeswoman.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Roy Strom in Chicago at rstrom@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com
John Hughes in Washington at jhughes@bloombergindustry.com

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