In the latest defection among Orange County's major-league law firms, five partners with the Costa Mesa branch of McKenna, Conner & Cuneo are leaving to open a local office for Morrison & Foerster, the partners said Monday.
All 22 associates with McKenna, Conner's Orange County office also will be asked to join Morrison & Foerster and "we anticipate that they will," said Edmond M. Connor, head of the litigation department and a founding partner of the local outpost. If the associates join the departing partners, Los Angeles-based McKenna, Conner--a firm that specializes in banking--could be left with no attorneys to staff its six-year-old branch in Orange County.
Lawyers in U.S., Hong Kong
Morrison & Foerster, a San Francisco-based firm with 340 lawyers in the United States and Hong Kong, plans to open its 11th office--possibly in the McKenna firm's Costa Mesa quarters--early next year, according to managing partner Joseph Terraciano in San Francisco.
If Morrison & Foerster does absorb all 27 attorneys from McKenna, Conner's Costa Mesa office, the San Francisco megafirm's branch here will be among the 10 largest law offices in the county.
The defection of the McKenna, Conner group fits what has become a pattern among branches of major firms that set up shop in Orange County to serve local clients. As branch offices grow and prosper serving clients here, the law firm's human assets have a way of moving on--to set up their own shops or join competing firms. Often, it's with a sizable amount of their former firm's legal work.
Since the big influx of out-of-town law firms began 10 years ago, Orange County has had more than its share of spin-offs, including groups from six Los Angeles-based firms: Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher; Wyman, Bautzer, Christensen, Kuchel & Silbert; Kindel & Anderson; Parker, Stanbury, McGee, Babcock & Combs; plus the defunct firms of Fulop & Hardee and Memel, Jacobs & Ellsworth.
'Not in Accord' With Firm
The five Orange County partners with McKenna, Conner disagreed with the home office on firm policy and management, said Michael McAndrews, managing partner in Los Angeles. "They were not 100% in accord with the rest of the firm. I think they basically decided they would enjoy more autonomy."
The departing partners told the Los Angeles office of their decision Friday and resigned effective Monday, Connor said. The move "provides us with an opportunity to affiliate with a growing firm that has a more diverse client base," he said.
In addition to Connor, the partners leaving are Ronald J. DeFelice and Gary P. Long, commercial real estate specialists; Ellen R. Marshall, a corporate attorney; and Dean J. Zipser, a litigator.
"I would hope the firms will split amicably," Connor said. He added that partners in the Los Angeles office of McKenna, Conner were "disappointed and hopeful that we could work things out . . . but we felt this was an opportunity that we couldn't turn down."
Connor declined to say who initiated the move. As of Monday, he said, the defecting group had "no commitments" from clients to switch to Morrison & Foerster. But, Connor added, "We anticipate we'll be able to maintain some of our work."
Office Opened in Irvine
Morrison & Foerster recently opened a bare-bones, 2,000-square-foot branch in Irvine that is staffed sporadically by lawyers from its 60-lawyer office in Los Angeles.
With the additions from McKenna, Conner, the Orange County branch of Morrison & Foerster will have attorneys here to represent real estate developers, financial institutions and corporate clients. "We hope to be 40-50 lawyers (in Orange County) within the next several years," Connor said.
Morrison & Foerster ranked No. 55 in gross revenues--which totaled $56.5 million--among the nation's top 100 law firms in the 1987 survey by American Lawyer, a trade publication. The same survey listed Morrison & Foerster as the fifth most profitable firm in San Francisco, with profits per partner of $225,000 annually.
McKenna, Conner ranked 95th, with reported gross revenues of $39.5 million, according to American Lawyer. The firm was listed as the eighth most profitable in Los Angeles, with profits per partner of $170,000.