September 17, 2014 / 1:40 PM / 5 years ago

Exodus hits U.S. law firm Bingham amid merger talks

Sept 17 (Reuters) - Twenty-two partners have jumped ship en masse from Bingham McCutchen’s marquee restructuring practice, raising questions about the fate of the law firm’s closely watched merger talks with the larger Morgan Lewis & Bockius.

Boston-based Bingham, a 750-lawyer firm known for representing big banks like UBS , Bank of America Corp and Morgan Stanley, has experienced financial pressures after a tough 2013 caused by the settling of litigation and a downturn in legal work that had been fueled by the financial crisis.

The departing group led by James Roome in London spans across its Hong Kong and Frankfurt offices. They are joining Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, the law firm said on Wednesday. Start dates have not yet been determined.

“This will be transformative in enhancing our brand as a leading global firm,” said Kim Koopersmith, chair of Texas-founded Akin Gump.

The exodus marks the largest group of lawyers who have left the 123-year-old Bingham in recent history and comes after the firm has been in merger negotiations with larger Philadelphia-based Morgan Lewis. Its talks with Morgan Lewis extend back at least to July.

It could not be immediately determined how the departures would affect the deal with Morgan, but people familiar with Bingham have said Roome was one of the most senior members of the firm, with one of the most lucrative practices.

Leading up to the exodus, Bingham leaders had maintained the departures were factored into the proposed combination with Morgan Lewis, according to people familiar with the matter.

Roome is the co-chair of Bingham’s global financial restructuring group, a member of the firm’s executive board and managing partner of the firm’s London, Frankfurt and Hong Kong offices.

He advises noteholders, such as Atrium European Real Estate, Concordia Bus, Damovo Group, in the workout and restructuring of distressed bonds and notes in Europe, and lenders in leveraged buyout restructurings, including Alliance Medical, Bulgaria Telecom and Findus.

“He has an excellent reputation,” said one Bingham lawyer who declined to speak publicly. He downplayed the business significance of the departure, saying Bingham is a big firm and can sustain the loss.

Bingham managing partner Steven Browne sent an email to lawyers on Tuesday night acknowledging the departures and saying he expected associates and staff to follow, according to a copy of the memo obtained by Reuters.

“While news coverage will sensationalize the departures’ impact, we acted quickly and aggressively some time ago to address the possibility of these departures,” said Browne. “We carefully modeled the financial implications and we are confident that we remain on track to exceed last year’s results.”

The Roome group’s discussions to leave Bingham has been known in the legal community for months and hit the trade press in early September when Roome had not yet resigned. The news of his expected departure was first reported by Legal Business, a trade publication. (Reporting by Casey Sullivan in New York; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

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