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Willkie Launches Chicago Office With Ex-Jenner & Block Chair (1)

March 31, 2020, 4:05 PMUpdated: March 31, 2020, 5:27 PM

Craig Martin, a litigation rainmaker and former chair of Jenner & Block, is leaving the firm to join Willkie Farr & Gallagher, where he’ll help open a Chicago office.

Martin will join New York-based Willkie Farr’s executive committee and serve as the firm’s Chairman for the Midwest.

He will be joined by five other equity partners moving from Jenner to Willkie. They include Amanda Amert, Matt Basil, Sara Horton, Barbara Grayson, and Matthew Thomas.

Martin has represented blue chip clients including Aon, General Dynamics, MacAndrews & Forbes, United Airlines, and the Crown family.

Willkie chair Thomas Cerabino said the hires were a “perfect strategic fit” that will benefit the firm’s litigation and investigations practice as well as its private client group.

“The main driver of this is quality,” Cerabino said in an interview. “The opportunity to partner with Craig and the other members of the team, whom we hold in the highest regard and whom we have known for some time, is a great opportunity for us.”

Amert had served as chair of Jenner & Block’s ERISA practice. She was on the firm’s management committee and co-chaired its Women’s Forum. Grayson was chair of Jenner’s private wealth practice and a management committee member.

Martin was replaced as chair of Jenner last month after just over a year in the role. He had previously led Jenner’s litigation department. Washington-based Thomas Perrelli, who was the No. 3 lawyer at the U.S. Department of Justice during the Obama administration, took over as Jenner’s chair.

Martin was credited with developing Jenner’s wealth management practice that launched in 2016 with the hires of longtime Crown family estate planning lawyers including Grayson. He also helped build the firm’s aviation practice, which launched in 2017 with multiple hires.

In a statement, a Jenner & Block spokeswoman said of the lawyers moving to Willkie, “We wish them the best in their future endeavors.”

‘Tremendous Opportunity’

In an interview, Martin said the move would help his client base by providing access to Willkie’s practices focused on private equity, business reorganization and restructuring, insurance transactions, and the financial industry.

“This was such a tremendous opportunity to do something that was unique in Chicago and that we think will be game-changing for the legal landscape that we wanted to seize the moment,” he said.

In joining Willkie, Martin moves to a firm that is roughly twice the size of Jenner by annual revenue and average profits per partner. Willkie’s average equity partner in 2019 earned $3.17 million, compared to about $1.6 million at Jenner, according to AmLaw reporting.

“This is stunning. A top New York law firm opening in Chicago is huge news under any circumstances,” said Kay Hoppe, a veteran recruiter for Big Law firms based in Chicago. “Opening with the former chairman of one of the nation’s legendary trial firms has the potential to reset the trial landscape far beyond the Midwest.”

Martin said Willkie was in the process of finalizing a Chicago lease, but that the team was currently working from home due to the coronavirus.

Cerabino said the firm was sensitive to the crisis going on in New York and across the globe, but that the firm was compelled to act despite uncertainty.

“As a firm we are doing everything to support our employees and clients,” Cerabino said. “We’re ramping up our pro bono efforts to help. We are also taking a longer-term view here. And for us the uncertainty of what is going on is a factor here, but we were able to do this quickly because we know Craig and we know the other members of the team.”

Martin has kept an active pro bono practice. In December he won an $11 million jury verdict on behalf of an Illinois prisoner who sued the state’s healthcare provider for inmates.

Martin has also been highly active in Chicago’s civic society, serving on the boards of the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, the Crown Family Philanthropies, the Urban League of Chicago, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and the University of Chicago Law School Advisory Council.

(Adds comment from recruiter in paragraph 14, Jenner & Block statement in paragraph 10. )

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

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bloomberglaw.com; Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com

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