Exclusive: Fourteen lawyers at Boston firm Bingham McCutchen jump ship

NEW YORK Fri May 30, 2014 2:38pm EDT

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Fourteen lawyers at Bingham McCutchen, a major Boston law firm, are leaving only months after the firm reported its steepest financial decline in two decades, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The 800-lawyer Bingham, which has represented companies such as Amazon.com Inc, Bank of America Corp and UBS, is well-known for its involvement in the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The departing 14, who include nine partners, some of them heads of practices, and five lower-ranking lawyers, will join Sidley Austin, Paul Hastings, and Skadden, according to at least five people close to the lawyers.

A Bingham spokeswoman said the firm had expected an increase in partner attrition as it headed into 2014 "because of forward-looking business decisions we made and because of a challenging 2013."

The partners who are leaving did not respond to requests for comment or declined to comment.

In February Bingham said that revenue at the firm fell 12.6 percent between 2012 and 2013, to $762 million. It cited the settling of large cases such as claims over the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the changing business landscape after the financial crisis.

That same month, the legal trade publication American Lawyer reported that Bingham ranked among the top 10 U.S. law firms that lost the most partners between 2012 and 2013. In April 2013 an 11-partner securities enforcement team moved to Sidley Austin.

The latest departures, however, come from across the board and some of them are from important leadership positions.

White-collar partner Mike Levy, who is joining Paul Hastings with two other partners and five counsel and associates, is currently representing Thomas Lund, the former executive vice president of Fannie Mae, against securities fraud charges filed in 2011 by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Richard Fries, who is moving to Sidley Austin, led Bingham's real estate practice and represents lenders such as Citibank, as well as investment bankers and private equity firms in mortgage foreclosure, among other things.

The sources said the departures were partly due to compensation disputes. Partners generally make anywhere between $400,000 and $1.3 million more on average at Skadden, Paul Hastings and Sidley, than at Bingham, according to the American Lawyer.

Several of the sources said that Bingham had itself been known for luring partners from competitors by offering big compensation packages.

"When a firm has a weak year, unless the partnership is very connected and tight, there's a high risk that people are going to look elsewhere," said Dan Binstock, a Washington legal recruiter familiar with Bingham. "Sometimes it creates somewhat of a waterfall effect."

(In the headline and paragraphs one and three, corrects the number of lawyers who are leaving Bingham, to 14 from 15)

(Reporting By Casey Sullivan; Edited by Ted Botha and Steve Orlofsky)

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