"Washington Hearsay," a column in the Sept. 13 Washington Business, erroneously attributed a statement to Brooksley Born regarding Long Term Capital Management, a Connecticut-based hedge fund. The column also incorrectly said the fund collapsed; a group of Wall Street investment firms arranged an infusion of money to keep it afloat. (Published 10/04/1999)
Are Washington's law firms feeling lonely or something? They seem to be getting hitched at a manic pace, and last week the wedding bells were louder than ever.
Howrey & Simon announced that it would merge with Arnold, White & Durkee, a mid-sized Houston litigation boutique with about 140 lawyers. The union will create the largest stockpile of intellectual property litigators on the face of the planet, and the managing partners hope to turn the as-yet unnamed combination into the go-to firm for companies looking to protect or acquire patents and trademarks. That's a growth industry in the age of technology, when strands of software code are worth fortunes.
"This catapults us ahead of the competition," gushed Howrey Managing Partner Ralph Savarese. "We'll have 280 lawyers dedicated to [intellectual property]. The next closest is 180."
For Howrey -- long known as an antitrust shop and one of the savviest marketers in the corporate legaldom -- the deal is designed to add talent in an era when, to put it bluntly, size matters.
"Size is becoming important because clients are looking for help in more than one category," said Savarese. "They want to see experience, nothing shallow, and they're sophisticated enough to sort out the real lawyers from the pretenders."
With Howrey's 340 lawyers, the two firms will have $225 million in revenue and leap to about 35 on the American Lawyer list of the top 100 law firms.
Whatever Howrey ends up naming this concoction, it's going to face competition from the other big marriage of last week: Venable, Baetjer, Howard & Civiletti announced that it would team up with Tucker Flyer, a Washington firm with 50 lawyers. Venable, born in Baltimore 100 years ago, has 130 lawyers in the District and a client list that includes Marriott Corp., Compaq Computer Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
Once again, the need to get large in the era of one-stop legal shopping is the logic behind this deal, set to take effect the first day of 2000. And clearly, the firm leaders are preparing to wage war with the host of out-of-town firms that are now setting up offices in Northern Virginia, chasing high-tech legal dollars. In fact, it sounds as if Washington lawyers are already a tad miffed at the scores of attorneys now scrambling from far-flung states to capitalize on Northern Virginia's new riches.
"We see West Coast firms eyeing this market and thinking they can come in here and cherry-pick," said Bill Coston, managing partner of Venable's D.C. office. "They have wonderful publicity machines and they'd like people to think they've made a huge impact, but the only impression I get is that they've succeeded in looting other firms."
"We've been here through thick and thin," said Stefan Tucker, co-founder of Tucker Flyer. "This economy is expansive now, but we've been here for the downturns, too, and we think clients recognize that. We're counselors and advisers, not just lawyers looking to come in for the dollars."
Meanwhile, partners in Piper & Marbury, a Baltimore-based firm with more than 100 lawyers in Washington, are set to vote on a proposed merger with Chicago's Rudnick & Wolfe, which Legal Times says has 35 lawyers here. And one firm with a large Washington office, New York's Rogers & Wells, decided that linking up with England's gargantuan Clifford Chance, which it did a few months ago, just didn't satisfy its urge to merge. Last week, the combined firms voted to merge with Germany's Punder Volhard Weber and Axster, a corporate finance and real estate firm with 260 lawyers. With a combined 2,700 lawyers, Clifford Chance Rogers & Wells will be the world's largest law firm, according to delighted firm officials.
Arnold's New Commodity
Arnold & Porter snared a marquee name in the financial regulation world: Brooksley Born, who headed the Commodity Futures Trading Commission from 1996 until this year. Born's tenure as chairman of the CFTC, the Washington organization that regulates the futures markets, had one memorably rocky moment. After the high-profile collapse of the Long-Term Capital Management LLC, a Connecticut-based hedge fund, Born said she knew that the fund was on fragile financial footing, although she did nothing about it and did not warn other regulators.
No doubt Arnold & Porter will be a calmer work environment. Two other CFTC professionals are moving with her: Daniel R. Waldman, former general counsel, and Susan G. Lee, former chief of staff. All are now Arnold & Porter partners.
Online, With Help
Washington's local courts are finally joining the Internet age. On Friday, D.C. Superior and the D.C. Court of Appeals came online courtesy of the D.C. Bar. Now, anyone on www.dcbar.org can click to a home page for both courts and eventually browsers will find the full text of opinions and the courts' calendars. Plenty of courts across the country launch their own Web sites, of course, without the aid of the local bar. But few are as broke, or as technologically arcane, as Washington's.
Online, With Attitude
Speaking of Web sites, Patton Boggs launched its own this week. Hearsay could hardly wait. This, after all, is the firm that lights Washington's power cigar, the 275-lawyer juggernaut that turned the black arts of federal lobbying into a bankable franchise. For years, firm namesake Thomas Hale Boggs Jr. has epitomized the triumph of K Street -- an overdressed shark to enemies of the town's influence game, a godsend to scores of corporations in need of a legislative favor.
So Hearsay hoped Patton Boggs would cook up a Web site every bit as, um, persuasive as the firm. Maybe a home page featuring a smoldering cigar, or a rare steak from Morton's. Or perhaps something subtle, like a pink "While You Were Out" slip with "Sen. Lott returned your call. He's on board!" scribbled on it.
Alas, the site, www.pattonboggs.com, plays it straight, for the most part. It's smartly laid out and pleasantly designed, with a visual motif built around a woman's unblinking eye. There are the usual practice overviews, lawyer bios (but no photos!) and a little "About Us" manifesto that, by Washington's standards, is pretty bold in the sales and braggadocio department. To wit: "Patton Boggs was the first national law firm to recognize that all three branches of government could serve as forums to achieve client goals." Well, Hearsay would love some details about how Patton Boggs lobbies the judiciary, but until then we'll enjoy the back-patting stories of past Patton Boggs triumphs. Like the time the firm convinced some congressional pal -- or pals -- to amend an appropriations bill so that an aeronautics client could keep its trade secrets. "We won't stop searching for creative solutions, even when the case looks bleak," the site advises.
The old-school schmooze meets new-school technology. Virtual martini, anyone?
Send scoops and gossip, but not flackery, to email@example.com