Howrey LLP
Howrey LLP Howrey LLP

The death knell for embattled BigLaw Howrey could ring as early as this week with firm partners reportedly set to vote on winding down its operations.

Howrey's troubles began last year as the firm witnessed the biggest job losses/layoffs - 159 - according to Law Shucks.

To date, the firm's intellectual property (IP) practice has been hurt the most. Irvine, California-based William Rooklidge (co-chair of the IP practice) and Frank Cote joined Jones Day while vice-chairman and IP expert Henry Bunsow joined Dewey & LeBoeuf.

Top IP litigator K.T. Sunny Cherian has also reportedly moved to Hogan Lovells, taking with him a 7-partner team and a reputed $10 million book of business.

Other top IP lawyers who quit Howrey were London-based IP managing partner Mark Hodgson and Germany-based IP partners Thomas Adam and Jochen Herr, who have joined Field Fisher Waterhouse.

However, the biggest blow was perhaps when European IP partners Denis Monegier du Sorbier and Willem Hoyng left Howrey to start their own boutique firm Hoyng Monegier.

European IP head Benoit Strowel, Amsterdam managing partner Bart van den Broek, Brussels IP head Carl de Meyer and Amsterdam partner Joris van Manen also quit Howrey to join Hoyng Monegier.

In recent times, Howrey partner and IP litigator James Batchelder joined Ropes & Gray.

Howrey's construction litigation practice group also received a blow recently as the the firm's former co-chair of the group John Heisse led a 15-lawyer team in quitting the firm and moving to Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman.

Andrew Ness, the other former co-chair of the Howrey construction group, is heading to Jones Day. According to the, seven partners in the construction group also quit the firm to join Jones Day last month.

The contingent was led by Stephen O'Neal and it included David Buoncristiani, John Foust, Aaron Gruber, Kent Lindsay, Daven Lowhurst and Clark Thiel.

Meanwhile, Howrey construction partners Stephen Palley and Barbara Werther have moved on to Ober Kaler.

So what went wrong with Howrey? According to Howrey vice chairman Sean F.X. Boland, the firm grew too fast, hiring a string of lawyers in recent years and when it could not keep its partners happy, they did not hesitate to jump ship.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Boland said Howrey grew very quickly and paid the price for it.

The firm expanded too quickly in 2003, after a string of big verdicts that were pronounced in its favor, and its revenues peaked at $573.2 million in 2008.

However, the firm struggled with the slide in profits per partner and many top lawyers began complaining that they didn't like how the firm was rewarding them for their hard work.

Howrey soon found difficulty in juggling dwindling profits and trying to keep its disgruntled partners happy, but soon top lawyers, including rainmakers, jumped ship when they didn't get exactly what they wanted, Boland told the Post.

A former Howrey partner said the firm's downfall began when it failed to restructure the firm during the recession.

The recession has led to a situation where the firm will have to get rid of its assets and wind down over the course of the next year to 18 months, Legal Week cited a former partner as saying.

Meanwhile, Winston & Strawn, which made offers to 75 percent of Howrey's partners earlier this year, is likely to end up hiring 35 percent of Howrey's existing partners. Howrey chairman Robert Ruyak has reportedly urged its partners to accept the offer quickly.