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Former Wilkinson Walsh Co-Founder Finds New Essential Oils Home

Feb. 16, 2021, 10:30 AM

Young Living Essential Oils, a multi-level marketing company that sells essential oils and other products, has hired Brant Bishop as chief legal officer.

Bishop joined Young Living in December, almost a year after he made headlines for leaving Wilkinson Walsh & Eskovitz. That Washington-based boutique led by high-profile litigator Beth Wilkinson shortened its name in January 2020 because of the departure of fellow co-founding partner Sean Eskovitz.

Essential oils have become a billion-dollar industry in recent years, although Young Living and other companies in the space have come under fire for claims about how their products can be used to treat the coronavirus and other ailments.

Bishop told Bloomberg Law that sellers of essential oils sometimes get unfairly stigmatized. “Most consumer product companies and automotive firms have the same diet of litigation, as do many Wall Street firms,” he said.

While Young Living has in the past received a warning letter from the Food and Drug Administration over its product claims, the company was not among the dozens of companies to receive such letters from the FDA last year over allegedly false promises about potential cures for Covid-19.

Young Living was, however, the subject of a series of stories last year by financial news outlet Business Insider scrutinizing the company’s business practices and claims made by those selling its essential oils and other products.

Young Living provided a statement to Business Insider defending itself and asserting that many of the allegations against it were “outdated, misleading, or exaggerated.”

“The company has instituted robust compliance practices and complies with applicable laws,” said Young Living, whose celebrity sponsors have included actresses Ellen Pompeo and Jenna Dewan.

Bloomberg News has previously reported that Young Living’s annual revenue has exceeded $1.5 billion. The company, founded in 1993 by businessman D. Gary Young, who died in 2018, is being represented by Winston & Strawn in a putative class action case accusing Young Living of running a pyramid scheme.

Leaving Big Law

Bishop attributed his exit from Wilkinson Walsh last year to a desire to take a break from the pressures of Big Law and spend more time with his family. He had previously spent nearly 19 years as an associate and partner at Kirkland & Ellis.

“Someone once said the law is a jealous mistress, and I think there’s some truth to that when you’re practicing at a very high level,” Bishop told The American Lawyer in January 2020. “I didn’t leave to go anywhere else except to go home.”

Bishop served as managing partner of Wilkinson Walsh, which recently changed its name to Wilkinson Stekloff following the November departure of former name partner Alexandra Walsh. The firm thanked Walsh for her service and she has yet to publicly disclose her future plans.

“People change directions occasionally,” said Bishop, when asked about Walsh’s departure. “I’m not surprised if anyone decides to make a change after a few years.”

Bishop’s plans for 2020—he spoke last year about looking forward to vacationing in Africa and Europe—were mostly able to proceed despite travel restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic. His family was in Rome a year ago this month just as Covid-19 was beginning to ravage the northern part of the country.

They were able to return to the U.S. before lockdowns began, but a subsequent trip to South Africa had to be canceled. Bishop and his family did preserve an annual summer retreat they take to Redoubt Mountain Lodge, a remote resort in Alaska.

“I’m lucky we were able to do two-thirds of them,” he said.

Bishop, a Utah native and Harvard Law School graduate who was an undergraduate at Brigham Young University, relocated last summer to his home state. Bishop said he had no plans to join a law firm and was content to stay semi-retired.

But late last year, Bishop connected with fellow BYU alum Joseph Cannon, a former partner at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius and Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman.

Cannon, a former chairman of the Utah Republican Party and CEO of the Fuel Freedom Foundation, had taken over as president of Young Living.

Young Living is based in Lehi, Utah, a city just south of Salt Lake City in the Silicon Slopes region, an area increasingly popular with lawyers and startup companies. And Young Living was already home to two former Kirkland lawyers.

New Legal Team

At Young Living, Bishop has succeeded Matthew French, the company’s former general counsel and chief legal and compliance officer.

Cannon replaced Jared Turner, a former attorney with Utah’s largest law firm Kirton McConkie. Turner was named Young Living’s president in 2018.

C. Gabriel Sanchez, another former Kirton McConkie lawyer, joined Young Living in 2015 and currently serves as the company’s president of the Americas.

Bishop said it was purely coincidence that his new in-house job brought him in touch with two Kirkland refugees. Nicolas Wenker, a former associate at the firm, is Young Living’s executive director of business support. He joined the company as an associate general counsel in 2017. Another ex-Kirkland associate, Matthew Jensen, was hired by Young Living in October as a corporate counsel.

Since 2007, Kirkland and Winston & Strawn have each handled about 30% of Young Living’s federal litigation caseload, according to Bloomberg Law data.

Other multi-level marketing outfits have recently changed their legal management.

M. Lee Reeves, until last June the top lawyer at hardwood flooring retailer Lumber Liquidators Holdings Inc., was in November named general counsel for Market America Inc. Reeves confirmed that he succeeded Clement Erhardt III as legal chief for the Greensboro, N.C.-based internet marketing and product brokerage.

Market America, founded in 1992 by president and CEO J.R. Ridinger, a former distributor for Amway Corp., owns Shop.com and received an FDA warning letter a year ago this month for claims involving dietary supplement products.

Erhardt, Market America’s former general counsel, is now the top lawyer for Mjalli Investment Group, a High Point, N.C.-based investment firm founded by Dr. Adnan Mjalli, a Palestinian-American biotechnology entrepreneur.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com
John Hughes at jhughes@bloombergindustry.com

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