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Chicago Law Firm Raids DFW Firms, Snagging ‘Apex Predators’ for New Dallas Office

The move by Winston & Strawn is said to precipitate a 'seismic shift' in the North Texas legal landscape.
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Triggering what’s described as a “seismic shift” in the North Texas legal landscape, a blue-chip law firm from Chicago has swooped into Dallas and scooped up 21 top business lawyers from eight firms to become partners here in a new office, the Illinois firm’s second in Texas. The raid is part of a trend in which well-heeled corporate law firms from outside the state snatch away leading Texas lawyers and their clients, aiming to establish a beachhead for the outsider firms in the Lone Star State.

The Chicago firm, 164-year-old Winston & Strawn LLP, lured away such prominent Dallas attorneys as Tom Melsheimer and Steve Stodghill from Fish & Richardson; Bryan Goolsby from Locke Lord; and Matthew Orwig from Jones Day. Other well-known attorneys joining the Chicago firm’s new Dallas office include Tom Hughes from Norton Rose Fulbright, Ken Betts and Billie Ellis Jr. from Locke Lord, Christina Tate from Greenberg Traurig, and Jordan Klein from K&L Gates. Melsheimer and Goolsby will serve as managing partners of the office, which is currently occupying the 17th floor of Uptown’s Saint Anne’s Court building while the firm looks for permanent space.

“In my 30 years of experience, no one has ever put together this sort of ‘dream team’ of super-talented lawyers here. It’s a group of apex predators,” said Stodghill, who was Fish’s national director of commercial litigation. The Winston & Strawn launch, he added, represents “a seismic shift—the biggest shakeup in Dallas legal circles in a very long time.”

John Browning, a Dallas attorney with Passman & Jones, agreed. “The word seismic is apropos,” he said. “This is the equivalent of starting a firm with an Olympic all-star team.” As evidence of the out-of-state firm trend, Browning pointed out that, just last week, Philadelphia-based Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP opened an office here with 23 attorneys it poached from Sedgwick LLP in Dallas.

Renowned Dallas trial lawyer Donald E. Godwin, chairman and CEO of Godwin Bowman & Martinez, concurred with the importance of the move by Winston & Strawn, which he called a “very well-respected and recognized firm.” Coming as it did into North Texas in “a very significant way doesn’t surprise me,” he added, “because … firms are looking for opportunities to expand … and Dallas has huge growth potential.”

Prior to its Dallas foray, Winston & Strawn had more than 800 lawyers in 18 offices in key financial centers around the world. The firm specializes in antitrust law, corporate and finance law, intellectual property, labor and employment law, tax law, and litigation. It opened its first Texas office in Houston in 2011, when it snapped up several lawyers from Howrey LLP, which was dissolving. It later snagged John Strasburger and three of his colleagues from Weil, Gotshal and Manges LP in Houston.

Asked what persuaded him to jump from Fish & Richardson to the new Winston & Strawn office, Stodghill said there were two main reasons: the Chicago firm’s “superb” reputation for commercial litigation, and the ability to “serve our client base more fully” with transactional services such as tax, mergers and acquisitions, and private equity. Stodghill said he and Melsheimer expect to bring to Winston & Strawn such marquee Fish & Richardson clients as Mark Cuban, the Dallas Mavericks, Fossil, and Sabre Corp.

In an October article in D CEO, Melsheimer recalled that establishing Fish & Richardson, an old-line Boston law firm that was new to Dallas, had been his “toughest challenge” as an attorney back in 2000. “The challenge was to educate people about who we were, convince them we were here to stay, and then to attract the talent we wanted,” Melsheimer said. “I knew then what I know now: If you’re a law firm that’s new to Dallas and don’t hit the ground running, you may never catch up.”

Melsheimer’s new firm, it seems, has a pretty good chance of avoiding that fate.

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