by John Henry
Posted 6/5/2006 12:00 am
Updated 11 months ago
?For page 2 of the state's largest law firms, click here.
One may be an exception, but two is a pattern and ?as everyone in the news business knows ?three is a trend.
Capturing a lot of attention last month was the departure of Ron Clark, the CEO of Rose Law Firm PA of Little Rock, to become general counsel for the newly formed Stephens Group LLC.
That was followed the next day by the departure from Mitchell Williams Selig Gates & Woodyard PLLC of Little Rock of Jack Grundfest, managing director, to become president of A. Tennenbaum Co. of North Little Rock.
Back in January, William H. Kennedy III, then senior partner in the Rose firm, left to join Cooper Communities Inc. of Rogers as general counsel.
But lawyers contacted by Arkansas Business were loath to suggest that the three high-profile jumps to corporate jobs were anything other than personal decisions by individuals presented with attractive opportunities.
Fred Ursery of the Friday Eldredge & Clark firm said, ?awyers used to stay at one firm, but it? nothing out of the ordinary for them to go work for longtime clients.?He said it happens all across the nation.
Another lawyer, who didn? want to be named, said, ?ompanies seek the best person they can get ?they go to the top. If there? a trend, maybe it is that more companies are hiring in-house counsels. Businesses are looking for someone who has managed a legal department.?p>Steve Joiner, Clark? successor as the Rose firm? CEO, said the rash of departures was curious but not much more.
?? observing the same thing, but I have no explanation,?he said.
In general terms, Joiner said, high-profile and highly experienced lawyers could expect to earn more as top partners in big-name law firms than as in-house counsel.
?ut look who Ron went to work for,?he said. ?tephens is the Big Leagues?and in my opinion they?e obviously recognized a preeminent legal talent.?p>The corporate door swings both ways. Bill Putman, a former in-house lawyer for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. of Bentonville, left the world? largest retailer and opened his own firm in downtown Fayetteville last month.
Putman managed some high-profile cases for Wal-Mart, including the world? largest civil rights class-action lawsuit, Dukes vs. Wal-Mart. He was chief deputy attorney general under now-Sen. Mark Pryor before going to Wal-Mart.
Trend or not, the changes at the top provide about the only changes in this year? list of the state? largest law firms.
The Friday firm remains the largest with 88 lawyers. That? two more than the firm had last year.
In February, Friday Eldredge & Clark, which has operated a Fayetteville office since 2000, opened another office at Rogers to better accommodate its Benton County clientele.
The Fayetteville office employs seven lawyers and has almost doubled its billing revenue each year for the past five years. The Rogers office has three lawyers.
The Mitchell firm, which took over second place on the list last year, reports 65 lawyers in Little Rock and Rogers, with four more scheduled to join the firm this summer.
Last year it had 67 lawyers to leap ahead of Wright Lindsey & Jennings LLP of Little Rock, which had reigned as the state? second-largest for years. After being tied in 2004, several lawyers at Wright Lindsey & Jennings jumped ship last year to Mitchell Williams.
This year, the Wright Lindsey firm has 57 lawyers, which keeps it in third place.
Wilson & Associates PLLC of Little Rock continued its steady climb up the list, coming in fourth this year with 40 lawyers ?up four from last year.
Rose barely remained in fourth place. It held its own with 33 lawyers ?the same as it listed in 2005 ?but Kutak Rock LLP gained four more lawyers to nip at Rose? heel with 32 lawyers this year. Joiner said Rose has hired four new associates to start this summer. (See Rose Not in Hurry to Grow, New CEO Says.)
Quattlebaum Grooms Tull & Burrow PLLC of Little Rock jumped up a couple of places to seventh by adding six lawyers. It now has 28 lawyers.
There were some losses also. Cauley Bowman Carney & Williams PLLC of Little Rock, which last year reported 13 lawyers, is now down to 10. Steven ?ene?Cauley, who is best-known for suing public companies on behalf of shareholders, is deliberately scaling back his practice and his law firm. He sent employees a letter earlier this year saying he would not commit to the practice of law ??t all??beyond 2007.
Grundfest? replacement at Mitchell Williams is Harry Hamlin, 43, a former assistant attorney general for the state of Arkansas who joined the firm in 1997. He officially takes over as managing director on July 1.
Hamlin said Grundfest would remain ?f counsel?to the Mitchell firm.
Hamlin graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1985 and received his law degree from the William H. Bowen School of Law at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in 1995. He has been a member of the Mitchell Williams board of directors for the past three years. His practice has specialized in commercial transactions, real estate, secured lending, corporate law, utility regulation and administrative law.
He serves as counsel to numerous financial institutions as well as various business entities on the formation, merger, restructuring, acquisition and sale of businesses. He is experienced in utility regulatory matters and advises clients on aircraft- and aviation-related matters.
?arry Hamlin is clearly an excellent choice to serve as managing director for our firm,?founder Maurice Mitchell said. ?e has impeccable credentials, is well-respected by his peers and inspires our entire staff with a calm and reasoned manner. We are fortunate to have an attorney of his caliber to lead our continued growth.?p>Hamlin, who spent 10 years on active duty, is a reserve lieutenant colonel and serves as director of operations for the Arkansas Air National Guard. He? also on the board of the Heflin YMCA, Junior Achievement of Arkansas and the Arkansas Museum of Discovery.
Hamlin said as managing director he will get guidance from the board of directors, but he also will have a lot of leeway in steering the firm from his new post.
?itchell Williams has been energized over the past few years,?Hamlin said, ?nd looks to identify practices that the firm needs to expand. It takes time, however, to find the right person. For instance, we looked for two years before we found the right person for our northwest Arkansas office at Rogers.?p>Hamlin said Mitchell Williams will continue to expand that office. ?here are plenty of opportunities to expand to meet the needs of our clients.?
Other Notable Changes
After last year? list of largest law firms came out, the state? largest firm, Friday Eldredge & Clark, underwent a change in leadership.
William H. ?uddy?Sutton, the firm? chairman and managing partner since the death of Herschel Friday in 1994, announced his retirement plans and was succeeded by Byron M. Eiseman on July 1. He had been the firm? vice chairman and head of its tax and business department for the past 30 years. He also is a certified public accountant.
J. Shepherd Russell, head of the firm? public finance department, replaced Eiseman as vice chairman.
Eiseman, who joined the firm in 1964, specializes in estate planning, mergers and acquisitions, probate and estate administration, and taxation law.
In Fayetteville, the Bassett Law Firm LLP lost two of its lawyers on Jan. 10. It had been the largest firm in Benton and Washington counties with 16 lawyers last year. It stands at 14 this year.
Founder and managing partner Woodson W. ?ill?Bassett, 79, died of prostate cancer during the day, and David Wall, 38, a partner, was found dead in his home at about 9 p.m.
Bassett primarily practiced civil litigation, employment discrimination, insurance defense and malpractice litigation.
Wall? death appeared to be from natural causes. Wall? area of practice was business law and litigation, civil litigation, employment law, and workers?compensation, among others.
Woody Bassett, a son of Bill Bassett, is the new managing partner, and another son, Tod Bassett, is also a lawyer at the firm.