Prominent Partner Exits Munger Tolles — The Wachtell of the West?

April 6, 2016, 3:36 PM

One of the top partners at Munger Tolles & Olson who co-managed the firm between 2005 to 2007 has left to take a leadership role at Proskauer Rose.

Bart Williams, who worked at the 190-lawyer California law firm for 21 years, has become the co-chair of Proskauer’s Los Angeles litigation department, according to a firm announcement. He began work on Tuesday.

“For me, what Proskauer offers is a firm that is not just a national practice, but a national footprint with a larger client base,” said Williams, in an interview. “It’s a firm that practices all over the world.”

Williams, 53, brings with him partner Manuel Cachán and a book of litigation cases, including discrimination and improper sales matters defending Wells Fargo. Other clients have included a who’s who of the media and entertainment world: Michael Ovitz, founder of Creative Artists Agency LLC, Brad Gray, the chair and CEO of Paramount Pictures Corp, and talk show star “Dr. Phil” McGraw.

[caption id="attachment_11171" align="alignleft” width="178"][Image “Bart Williams, co-head of Proskauer’s LA litigation department.” (src=https://bol.bna.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Bart-Williams.png)]Bart Williams, co-head of Proskauer’s LA litigation department.[/caption]

Munger Tolles has two offices — in Los Angeles and San Francisco — and despite its size, it handles some of the country’s biggest cases. It represented Transocean, a drilling company, in civil and criminal litigation arising from the 2010 BP oil spil in the Gulf of Mexico.

The firm also defended Bank of America in cases stemming from the housing market collapse and the issuance of mortgage backed securities, and Energy Future Holdings Corp in restructuring its $42 billion debt load.

The departure surprised some in the legal community as word spread last week. Since there aren’t many partners at Munger and it is so prestigious, it’s rare for a significant partner to leave for a competitor. Williams worked at Munger Tolles his whole career, except for a three year stint at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Central District of California, between 1991 and 1994.

Over the weekend, one consultant who is familiar with the firm said it was “hard to believe” Munger would sustain such a loss, unless the partner was going in-house or to become a judge.

“If so, it would be the first in a long while,” the source said on the condition of anonymity.

Well, not too long a while: In March, another Munger Tolles partner, Jeff Bleich, joined Dentons .

In response to the most recent departure, and questions about whether regional firms like Munger are under threat from larger competitors, Brad Brian, who is one of its top billing partners, issued a statement.

He likened Munger to Wachtell, Cravath, and Williams & Connolly, saying that the firms models are similar, as all of them service national and international clients from a limited number of offices.

“We focus on quality lawyering and cost-effective solutions to clients’ problems,” he said, and pointed to a number of blue chip firm clients, including Warner Bros., Berkshire Hathaway, LG, LinkedIn and Occidental Petroleum.

“Matters have us actively litigating in courts across the country,” he said, and also noted the firm has international matters, including arbitrations, class actions and environmental disputes in South America, Europe and Asia.

Still, the hire is a coup for Proskauer, which has expanded in Los Angeles from 50 to 90 lawyers in 12 years under the leadership of Michael Woronoff, a corporate partner who has Apollo Global Management as a client and has been instrumental in building the firm’s private equity practice.

“Munger is an amazing firm and it still is an amazing firm, but I think that Bart realized the ability to go into a firm that has a more national and international platform would be good for [Bart and Manuel],” said Woronoff. “That led to our ability to attract them to us.”

[caption id="attachment_11166" align="alignright” width="197"][Image “Michael Woronoff, head of Los Angeles at Prosauer Rose” (src=https://bol.bna.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Michael-Woronoff.png)]Michael Woronoff, head of the Los Angeles office at Prosauer Rose[/caption]

Woronoff is a frequent guest of Craft Los Angeles , one of Tom Colicchio’s restaurants where celebrities take their meals next to the Creative Artists Agency building. He is known in the Los Angeles legal community as a charismatic rainmaker and the face of the New York firm’s success on the West Coast. Woronoff joined Proskauer from Shelter Capital Partners in 2004. Before that, he was a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, where he worked for 15 years, according to his Linked In profile.

Of his recent recruiting feat from Munger, Woronoff said that he was able to secure the placement through a recruiter.

“We did reach out to them and there was a headhunter involved,” said Woronoff, almost as though he was building up to an Oscar introduction.

“It was... Sabina Lippman, who did a great job.”

As we’ve recently noted, Lippman, of Lippman Jungers LLC, has been on a tear on the West Coast : She built out Sidley Austin’s new and expanded Los Angeles office with hires from a smattering of top law firms, including Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and Milbank Tweet Hadley & McCloy.

If it’s one thing that recent news has taught us , it’s that nothing is sacred in the legal business.

One prominent M&A partner said corporate lawyers wonder when Woronoff will hang it up at Proskauer, cash in and join a private equity client. Asked about the possibility on Tuesday, Woronoff said: “I don’t see that in my future.”

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