Manatt Phelps' Rothenberg Goes to Latham & Watkins


California State Bar President Alan I. Rothenberg has left his firm of 24 years to become a litigation partner in the Los Angeles office of Latham & Watkins, the nation's eighth-largest law firm.

Rothenberg was senior litigation partner at Los Angeles-based Manatt, Phelps, Rothenberg & Phillips, a 115-lawyer firm where he earned a reputation as a tough litigator in business and sports law. Latham & Watkins operates in seven cities with about 550 lawyers and will soon open a London office. Those factors were among the attractions for him, Rothenberg said in an interview Wednesday.

"In my opinion, Latham & Watkins is the best national firm. I'm honored to be in a national firm that is about to become international. It combines high quality of service to clients, legal talent, breadth and expertise. There is an internal collegiality. It is a very well-managed firm," he said.

Rothenberg's move to Latham & Watkins is in keeping with a trend across the country where the large firms are raiding smaller firms for talent, said Bert Early, president of Bert Early & Associates, a Chicago-based executive search firm specializing in recruiting senior lawyers and partners for law firms. He noted that the 581-lawyer, Houston-based Fulbright & Jaworski in March plucked three lawyers from Los Angeles-based Hill, Farrer & Burrill (about 50 lawyers) and made them partners in Fulbright & Jaworski's Los Angeles office.

"The big firms are aggressively seeking out people. They are looking for rainmakers--prominent, well-regarded local attorneys who have a full client load. This is a trend that we will continue to see," Early said. At the same time, he added, the large firms are "weeding out" partners who in their view don't have a sufficient client base and aren't producing enough revenue.

The courtship that is occurring works both ways, Early said. It is not unusual for partners in a firm where they are the major rainmaker to seek out another firm if they believe that they are carrying a disproportionate load and the firm as a whole is not sufficiently aggressive, he explained.

"We find that these people are welcome recipients of offers from the big firms," Early said. Lawyers in small firms--those with less than 100 lawyers--are especially concerned about the survival of their organizations because the large firms are getting larger, and many corporate clients are growing and demanding firms with broader services, he said.

The large firms are also seeking to fill niches, Early said, explaining that Latham & Watkins probably concluded that Rothenberg was the best to fill a niche, among other strengths.

Rothenberg has represented many prominent sports figures and sports organizations, including the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Kings and Steve Garvey (a former Dodger and San Diego Padre). Rothenberg's 27-year career has been that of a litigator. Before joining Manatt Phelps, he was general counsel to Jack Kent Cooke Inc. and California Sports Inc.

"Alan Rothenberg is one of California's most prominent trial attorneys and has an impressive record of significant victories," Latham & Watkins managing partner Jack Walker said in a statement. "Besides being a terrific attorney, his commitment to a wide variety of charitable, civic and professional organizations will complement the Latham culture."

Ken Oder, national chairman of Latham & Watkins' litigation department, said: "Litigation, which represents more than one-third of our business, has been the bread-and-butter of this firm since its inception. Alan's experience as a trial lawyer and his high visibility in the business and legal community add a powerful asset to our traditional commercial litigation team as well as broadening or presence in the sports and entertainment arenas."

Rothenberg, a Detroit native, graduated from the University of Michigan Law School. He became state bar president last September. A commentator on ESPN's "Sportslook," he has served on the board of governors of the National Basketball Assn. and as president of the Los Angeles Clippers.

"While I look forward to the opportunities this move presents, I retain treasured memories from almost 25 years of practice together with friends at Manatt Phelps," he said.

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