On The Case

Ex Quinn Emanuel partners Selendy and Gay open their new boutique today

(Reuters) - It takes considerable fortitude to walk away from one of the most profitable law firms in the U.S., where average partners made upward of $5 million in 2017. And Philippe Selendy and Faith Gay, formerly of the New York office of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, were not average partners. Selendy is best known for representing the Federal Housing Finance Agency in its $25 billion rout against more than a dozen banks that sold toxic mortgaged-backed securities. Gay is an ace trial and appellate advocate whose client list has included Coca Cola, Home Depot and Schwab.

On Thursday, the two opened a new boutique, Selendy & Gay, with eight other partners from Quinn Emanuel’s New York office, including David Elsberg, the former co-chair of Quinn’s investment fund litigation practice, white-collar specialist Christine Chung and antitrust partner Jennifer Selendy. Elsberg and Jennifer Selendy have been named managing partners of the new firm.

So why did Philippe Selendy and Gay jump ship when their careers at Quinn Emanuel were cruising along at top speed? I stole the boat metaphor from Selendy, who, in an interview Wednesday, said Quinn Emanuel is like the QEII but he and Gay wanted to captain a Boston Whaler.

“We want to reimagine the law firm from the ground up,” he said. “With a single office and a tight-knit culture, we can.” The new firm can be nimbler than Quinn was, with fewer conflicts to complicate business development.

Selendy and Gay said the ethos of the new firm will be client service, not profitability. They’re planning, for example, not to bill clients for the time Selendy & Gay lawyers spend getting to know clients’ businesses. To encourage collaboration, they said, they are eliminating origination credits.

“Our mandate for ourselves and our partners is to achieve results,” Selendy said. “Profits will follow from that.”

Gay said almost all of the clients who worked with her and Selendy at Quinn are continuing the relationships, sometimes along with Quinn lawyers. She and Selendy said, however, that they could not immediately provide a client list for the new firm.

Selendy and other Quinn partners famously anticipated the explosion of MBS litigation a decade ago, educating themselves about the securities even before they had paying MBS clients. I asked Selendy and Gay what the new firm foresees as the next big thing. Selendy said he thinks litigation will soon wreak big changes in the energy industry. “The litigation spend is not high today, but it’s the future,” he predicted. In the white-collar area, Gay said, the new firm is expecting antitrust enforcement work, especially for healthcare and pharmaceutical clients, and cyber cases. (Chung is head of the white collar practice at the new firm.)

Both Gay and Selendy emphasized that the new firm is eager to replicate Selendy’s collaboration with the FHFA, partnering with public officials like state AGs to bring fraud and other sorts of cases. “We’re going to have more to say on that soon,” Gay said.

The firm expects to staff up with about 30 associates in the next few months. Selendy and Gay don’t seem at all worried about keeping them busy.