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Irell’s Securities Litigation Chair Heads to Gibson Dunn (1)

Sept. 1, 2020, 3:29 PMUpdated: Sept. 1, 2020, 9:21 PM

Irell & Manella has lost securities litigation practice chair and executive committee member Craig Varnen to Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in the latest major lateral departure from the high-end litigation boutique.

Varnen, who also served as vice chair of Irell’s litigation group and spent more than two decades at the firm, will join Gibson Dunn in Los Angeles.

Varnen first joined Irell in 1994 after clerking at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Since then he’s built a practice focused on representing companies in federal and state securities class actions, derivative actions and regulatory proceedings relating to M&A, public offerings, and insider trading.

He also has worked on a wide array of class actions, including consumer class actions, as well as partnership and employee departure disputes. He has conducted internal investigations and advised on corporate governance issues as well.

He successfully represented Public Storage in a $41 million securities class action class lawsuit in 2016 and defended the former chairman of Countrywide Financial Corp., Angelo Mozilo, in a series of securities fraud and regulatory lawsuits brought by the Department of Justice.

Gibson Dunn lawyers have worked alongside Vernen over the years on a variety of matters, Jay Srinivasan, co-partner in charge of Gibson Dunn’s Los Angeles office, said in a statement.

“Gibson Dunn has a premier global litigation practice and an outstanding corporate practice, both of which are crucial in expanding my securities litigation practice,” Varnen said in an email to Bloomberg Law. “Gibson Dunn’s deep relationships within the financial sector mesh well with my own relationships and should present great opportunities going forward.”

Over the past year, Los Angeles-based Irell has seen a flurry of partner departures, including its former managing partner Ellisen Turner, appellate co-chair David Schawarz, and M&A partners Gregory Klein and Michael Kaplan. Earlier this year, Irell announced that it would pivot towards certain litigation practices, like IP and complex business matters, and away from “non-core practice areas.” The firm said at the time that further attorney losses were expected.

“In light of Irell’s decision to remain a smaller, boutique-style firm focused on top-quality litigation, it is understandable that some of our attorneys would depart for global firms,” Irell partner and executive committee member Jonathan Kagan said in a statement on Tuesday. “We will miss working with Craig and wish him the very best at his new firm.”

Gibson Dunn has been busy adding to its ranks across several of its offices. It has just added Jones Day partner Stephen Olson to its Houston office as head of its private equity practice in Texas. It also added Haynes and Boone IP partner Ken Parker to its Orange County, Calif., office.

In New York, the firm picked up Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom partner Pamela Lawrence Endreny for its tax practice as well as former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York Karin Portlock.

(Updated with comment from Varnen in paragraph 7)

To contact the reporter on this story: Meghan Tribe in New York at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rebekah Mintzer at; Tom P. Taylor at