McDermott Circles DLA Piper, Lands Seven Partners: Sources

March 9, 2018, 12:18 AM

McDermott Will & Emery, the 1,000-lawyer Chicago-based law firm that’s recently redoubled its focus on profitability, may have found one way to boost its bottom line: attorneys from the global law firm DLA Piper.

Mike Poulos, co-managing partner of the Americas at DLA Piper and a top litigator in Chicago, is joining McDermott along with six other litigation partners in Chicago and New York, according to sources with direct knowledge of the matter.

Poulos, 56, confirmed his move in a statement on Thursday, but others said to be included in the deal, such as Michael Sheehan, co-chair of DLA Piper’s global employment department, declined to comment.

“I am very excited about joining the McDermott leadership team and look forward to contributing to the continued evolution and success of McDermott,” Poulos said.

Poulos said he will join McDermott’s management committee and executive committee. Senior leaders on those committees have recently made adjustments to McDermott, including holding partners to higher performance standards, and refocusing on practices such as tax, private equity, M&A, private wealth, and big ticket litigation.

The firm’s chair, Ira Coleman, told Big Law Business in August 2017, that one of his goals was to lift the firm’s profits to place it among the top 25 most profitable law firms in the United States.

Poulos will play a key role in that effort. By all accounts, he was considered a rainmaker at DLA Piper, with clients including BDO Global, Comcast Corp and American International Group. And, he has had years of experience as a practice leader, meaning that he will take a lead role in recruiting.

The exit is significant for DLA Piper, too. Poulos was deeply ingrained in the firm’s culture, having worked there since as far back as 1997, before his firm was absorbed into what became DLA Piper, and was known as Rudnick and Wolfe.

“Mike was a valued partner,” said DLA Piper’s global co-chair Roger Meltzer, “and he made a decision to go forward with his life in another direction… We wish him well.”

Meltzer stood behind the firm’s financial results in 2017 as evidence that the firm is on the right track. A firm spokesman said that its gross revenue increased by 6.6. percent and profits per partner increased by 6.1 percent, between 2016 and 2017. By comparison, the firm had $2.5 billion in revenue and averaged $1.65 million in profits per partner in 2016.

Outside of any financial impact, though, the move is delicate. Several sources told Big Law Business that there were signs that Meltzer and Poulos did not always get along.

The pair are contrasting figures: Meltzer, a corporate lawyer on Wall Street and a product of Cahill Gordon & Reindel, wears a bow tie and suit to work and is as formal as lawyers get. Poulos, a scrappy litigator, received his law degree from Case Western University, and can be seen wearing jeans and cowboy boots in the office.

“He could not be more different than Roger,” said one source close to both, who declined to speak publicly to preserve business relationships.

[caption id="attachment_3392" align="aligncenter” width="341"][Image "" (src=https://biglawbusiness.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/IMG_89272-e1437409174392.jpg)]Peter Zeughauser of Zeughauser Group (left), interviews Roger Meltzer (right), on the critical business trends affecting global law firms.[/caption]

One example frequently cited by sources who spoke of tension between the two was the acquisition of the Southern California litigation law firm, Liner LLP. Two people familiar with Poulos’s thinking said he did not appreciate being kept out of the loop on negotiations to acquire the firm, which closed in October 2017 and brought onboard real estate and entertainment litigator, Stuart Liner, among others.

Asked about any differences between the two, Meltzer said: “I’m not going to comment on internal firm matters. I never have commented on internal firm matters and I’m not starting now.” But he repeated – at least three times – that Poulos was a valued partner at DLA Piper and wished him well.

Poulos, responding by email, said: “Roger and I, along with Jay Rains and Stasia Kelly, have worked together for 5 years as a leadership team. We are all very proud of the accomplishments achieved by our leadership in a very short period of time, and I personally wish Roger, Jay and Stasia the best in maintaining the very positive trajectory that DLA is on.”

Beyond the well-wishes, though, McDermott plans to put itself on a positive trajectory, too: One McDermott source told Big Law Business that the firm is in talks with additional DLA Piper partners spanning California, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and New York offices and in practices such as employment and corporate.

Verdict still out on whether they will join.

News of Poulos’s move was first reported by The American Lawyer.

To contact the reporters on this story: Casey Sullivan at csullivan@bloomberglaw.com and Stephanie Russell-Kraft at srussellkraft@gmail.com.

To contact the editor on this story: John Crawley at jcrawley@bloomberglaw.com.

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