Partners take 100-plus lawyers from Lewis Brisbois for new employment spinoff

Am Law 100 firm’s employment team leaders defect to set up boutique, taking up to 140 lawyers with them

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More than 100 lawyers are leaving US law firm Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith to join a new boutique launched by former leaders of the firm’s employment practice. 

John Barber told Bloomberg Law on Tuesday that the majority of the departures are California-based labour and employment lawyers, though the firm, which Barber has founded alongside Jeff Ranen and seven other partners, lists 12 offices across the US on its website. 

Ranen told Above the Law on Tuesday that 118 Lewis Brisbois lawyers had already signed offer letters to join the new firm, which will be known as Barber Ranen, and that up to 140 could eventually make the move.  

Barber acknowledged to Bloomberg Law that there was “some tension” with the partners that remained at Lewis Brisbois, but said he and Ranen had been motivated “to build something of our own” and “rediscover the vigor we had earlier in our career” rather than by problems with the firm’s management.  

Los Angeles-based Barber and Ranen collectively spent 45 years at their former firm, where they were both members of the management committee and served respectively as chair and vice-chair of its employment group. 

The departures could more than halve the size of Lewis Brisbois’ roughly 200-strong employment team, though a partner at the firm told Bloomberg Law that while it was expecting to lose some of its California-based clients, its employment practice and the firm itself remained “very strong”. 

Lewis Brisbois reported $703m in gross revenue last year – putting it at number 70 in the latest Am Law 100 – and profits per equity partner of around $1m. The Los Angeles-headquartered firm, which has 1,700 lawyers across 55 US offices, counts corporate giants like Ford Motor Company and Home Depot as clients and has tapped New York partner Elior Shiloh to lead its labour and employment team. 

The exits mark the second time Lewis Brisbois has seen a large group of lawyers head for the door recently after the chair of its cybersecurity and data privacy practice, Sean Hoar, left in January at the helm of a team of 32 lawyers and 12 professional staff for Atlanta-based rival Constangy Brooks Smith & Prophete. 

And the departures come against a background of several large team moves at US firms, including Paul Hastings’ ‘extraordinary’ hire of a 43-lawyer restructuring team from Stroock & Stroock & Lavan in New York in March last year. 

And just a few months ago a wave of departures from Shearman & Sterling saw a 20-strong group exit its Munich office for Morgan Lewis, in a move that left the New York firm with a single partner in the city. 

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