When the economic meltdown hit law firms, Andrew L. Sandler and Benjamin B. Klubes could have played it safe. After all, they were partners in the District office of the prestigious New York law firm Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, specializing in consumer financial services enforcement and litigation, a practice area gearing up for an influx of work even as other areas of corporate law slowed down.
Yet as others retrenched, the pair decided to take a calculated risk. In March 2009, a month when layoffs at the nation's largest firms crested and more than 3,500 lost their jobs, according to one industry Web site, Sandler and Klubes decided they would open their own boutique firm servicing clients in the financial services industry.
(Jeffrey MacMillan/FOR WASHINGTON POST) - Founders of the Buckley Sandler firm, from left to right, Jerry Buckley, John Kromer, Andrew Sandler, Ben Klubes and Joseph Kolar.
BuckleySandler launched that spring with about 40 attorneys, a group composed of colleagues they recruited to join them from Skadden and attorneys working for the financial regulatory firm Buckley Kolar, an upstart that had also been founded by Big Law refugees.
In the two years since the two groups joined forces, BuckleySandler has tripled in size to nearly 130 lawyers and opened offices in New York and Los Angeles to go with the one on 24th Street NW in the District, all without a merger, large-scale acquisition or even taking on debt.
The firm shares work with white-shoe Wall Street firms that include Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz; Sullivan & Cromwell; Skadden Arps; and Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton. It boasts a roster of clients that include some of the nation's largest banks, among them Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, BB&T and J.P. Morgan Chase.
“Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good,” Sandler said of their timing.
BuckleySandler's success is largely predicated on its eschewal of many tenets that have defined Big Law: Instead of being all things for all clients, the firm continues to maintain its focus on litigation and regulatory work for financial services firms. Mergers and hiring large ready-made groups of partners aren't on the table. The firm largely ignores the time-worn process of recruiting new attorneys from the campuses of the nation's law schools. Sandler says the model keeps the firm nimble, invoking a favorite metaphor to describe how the firm can offer the same quality work but at more competitive rates.
“We thought that the environment called for a speedboat rather than a battleship,” Sandler said.
Sandler's plan to join forces with the attorneys at Buckley Kolar, who included Jeremiah S. Buckley, Joseph M. Kolar and John P. Kromer, was hatched over an elliptical machine at the Kenwood Golf and Country Club when Sandler approached longtime friend and colleague Buckley, who had himself left the firm Goodwin Procter several years before. At Skadden, Sandler regularly directed his clients to Buckley Kolar for regulatory guidance, given that the area has long been a difficult one for Wall Street firms to build because the work commands lower hourly rates than that of capital markets and mergers practices.