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Wake Up Call: Texas Lawyers, Firms Struggle in Storm’s Wake

Feb. 19, 2021, 2:12 PM

In today’s column, although Covid-19 ravaged the U.S. economy in 2020, more Big Law firms keep posting huge profit gains; Covid-19 kept law firms and the DOJ busy last year, a report says; former Willkie co-chair Gordon Caplan avoided disbarment, despite his felony conviction in the college-admissions scandal; a biopharma startup snagged a Pfizer lawyer who worked on the giant’s Covid-19 vaccine project.

  • Leading off, Texas law firms and lawyers are struggling with outages of power, water, heat, and internet after winter storms hit the state. (Texas Lawyer) Meanwhile, a law school in Texas is getting criticized for planning to hold classes despite the crisis. (Above the Law) One Texas lawyer is getting flak for traveling to Cancun while his home state suffers. (Bloomberg News)
  • Steptoe & Johnson appeared as defense counsel in 210 Covid-19 cases in 2020 as companies sued over cancellation of contracts and events and other disputes caused by the pandemic, according to a new 2021 law firms activity report from Lex Machina. Among other things, the report finds the Justice Department was by far the most active counsel filing nearly 9,000 cases on behalf of plaintiffs and defending more than 27,000 cases, not counting multidistrict litigation associated cases. (American Lawyer) (Above the Law)
  • Hogan Lovells said its average profits per equity partner surged 31% to nearly $2 million in 2020, thanks to cost savings and a lower number of equity partners. King & Spalding credited a sharp increase in demand for its 14.3% increase in revenue, to $1.53 billion, and a 25.2% jump in PEP. Meanwhile, Crowell & Moring said contingency fees and alternative fee arrangements powered its an 18.7% in revenues, to $514.39 million, and a 46.6% explosion in average PEP. (National Law Journal)
  • Dickinson Wright’s revenues rose 2.9% but its PEP jumped 15%. (American Lawyer) Philadelphia-based Ballard Spahr’s revenues grew 1.4% last year, as the firm was reluctant to cut jobs during the pandemic (Legal Intelligencer)
  • Litigation funder Burford Capital said it is restoring dividend payments after a strong portfolio performance, although its new business and profits were hit by the pandemic. (Global Legal Post)
  • Former Willkie Farr & Gallagher co-chair Gordon Caplan got a two-year suspension of his legal license in New York, side-stepping disbarment, despite his felony conviction in the college admissions cheating scandal. (New York Law Journal)
  • A Philadelphia judge agreed to change the venue of a trial because the witnesses were worried about getting Covid. (Legal Intelligencer)

Revolving Door

  • Sullivan & Cromwell announced the return of former SEC Chair Jay Clayton and former acting solicitor general Jeffrey Wall, who argued high-profile cases for the Justice Department during Donald Trump’s presidency. Wall was a partner at the firm and co-head of its appellate practice. (BLAW)

Lawyers, Law Firms

  • Rule changes took effect in Arizona that have the potential to drastically reshape the delivery of legal services in Arizona. (Phoenix Business Journal)
  • A federal court rejected claims by the ex-wife of one-time Hunton & Williams partner Scott Wolas to his $788,000 retirement account with the firm. Wolas became a fugitive for 20 years after authorities charged him in a $100 million fraudulent liquor-exporting scheme. (BLAW)
  • South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg was charged with three misdemeanors after hitting and killing a man with his car and then claiming he thought he hit a deer. (Associated Press) (Above the Law)

Diversity & Inclusion

  • Nixon Peabody said it’s expanding a “diversity challenge” the firm started in 2010 and will now allow attorneys to get up to 60 hours of billable hour credit for their work on diversity-related activities. It’s the latest of a handful of Big Law firms that have said they will allow attorneys to count such hours toward their bonus and other hourly thresholds. (NixonPeabody.com)
  • Morrison & Foerster’s new “Black Venture Accelerator” program aims to give Black founders and Black-owned businesses pro bono legal services and other support to help them succeed. (MoFo.com)
  • Arent Fox said it’s joining firms supporting Georgetown Law’s two-year-old program aimed at increasing diversity of the law school applicant pool by reaching out to high school students in underserved communities around the United States. (ArentFox.com)

Laterals, Moves

  • Baker Botts recruited energy projects partner Julie Mayo, the head of U.S. oil and gas practice at Norton Rose Fulbright, as a partner in Houston. (BakerBotts.com)
  • McGuireWoods added a team of three digital healthcare partners with government, in-house, and private practice experience. Former U.S. Health Department regulator Jonathan Ishee, who teaches biomedical informatics at University of Texas, and ex Seyfarth Shaw counsel Janice Suchyta, who was previously top lawyer at a regional health system, joined in Houston. Ex-Honigman partner Andrea Lee Linna joined in Chicago. (McGuireWoods.com)
  • Chicago firm Katten Muchin Rosenman added longtime Latham & Watkins partner Peter Knight to its insolvency and restructuring practice. (BLAW)
  • Faegre Drinker added finance and restructuring partners on both coasts. Richard Bernard arrived from Foley & Lardner in New York. Scott Gautier joined in Los Angeles from Robins Kaplan, where he was chair of the corporate restructuring and bankruptcy practice group. (FaegreDrinker.com)
  • Sullivan & Worcester said real estate partner Jennifer Schultz and associate Jordan Smith in Boston joined the firm from Goodwin Procter. (Sullivanlaw.com)
  • Miller & Chevalier added cross-border compliance and government investigations lawyer Jeffrey Lehtman as a member in Washington in its litigation department. He was previously a partner at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati. (MillerChevalier.com)
  • New York-based Warshaw Burstein said matrimonial and reproductive family law attorney Alexis Cirel is joining the firm as a partner and will help launch its new fertility law group. (WBNY.com)
  • Jones Day got former Trump Justice Department lawyer Alexander Maugeri as of counsel in its government regulation and business & tort litigation practices. (JonesDay.com)
  • Blank Rome’s government relations branch added veteran Democratic House staff director David S. Jansen as a senior adviser in Washington. (BlankRome.com)

In-house

  • Biotech startup Recursion Pharmaceuticals poached former Pfizer Inc. assistant general counsel Louisa Daniels to be its general counsel and chief legal officer. As head of Pfizer’s clinical development legal team Daniels played a leading role in legal support for Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine program. (PRNewswire.com)
  • Verisk, a data analytics provider, said Chase Consumer Bank general counsel Kathy Card Beckles joins the company on April 5 as its new executive vice president, general counsel, and corporate secretary. (Verisk.com)

Promotions

  • Nixon Peabody appointed New York-based worklaw partner Tara Daub practice group leader of its labor & employment group. It appointed L.A.-based partner Benjamin Kim as deputy practice group leader. Kim also leads the practice’s occupational safety & health team. (NixonPeabody.com)
  • Otterbourg P.C. named member Thomas Duignan co-chair of its finance department, joining co-chair David Morse. (Businesswire.com)

Technology

  • Hackers that breached Jones Day’s Acellion-provided file sharing system have leaked gigabytes of data stolen from the firm, a report says. (Forbes)
  • The tech vendor at the center of the Jones Day hack is being sued for a similar breach that exposed the personal information of nearly 1.6 million Washington residents (BLAW)

Legal Education

  • A Harvard Law School student started her own clothing company because she couldn’t find the right interview wear. (Harvard Crimson)

To contact the correspondent on this story: Rick Mitchell in Paris at rMitchell@correspondent.bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story:Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com

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