Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP has added the global leader of K&L Gates LLP’s intellectual property practice in a recruiting coup that includes three other partners.
Michael J. Abernathy, an IP trial attorney who has represented Baxter Healthcare Corp., Mattress Firm Inc. and other large clients, joined Morgan, Lewis’ local office on Thursday after a monthlong courtship led by the firm’s Philadelphia-based chair, Jami Wintz McKeon.
Abernathy said he had not been looking to leave K&L Gates but was attracted by a two-pronged strategy for the IP practice laid out by Morgan, Lewis: They are focusing on growing their inter partes review capabilities and believe themselves to be well-positioned to benefit from a trend toward competitor-to-competitor lawsuits in the pharmaceutical industry.
“I was blown away by what they presented, and what it meant for our clients and the people working for me and my future,” said Abernathy, who was also a member of K&L Gates’ management committee. “So my head is still spinning.”
Abernathy’s team is the second acquisition for Morgan, Lewis’ local office this year. Trial partners Elizabeth B. Herrington and Mark J. Altschul joined in January from McDermott, Will & Emery LLP.
Scott T. Schutte, the local office managing partner, said the firm was turning its attention back toward lateral hiring in Chicago following its massive November 2014 acquisition of more than 500 lawyers from now-defunct Bingham, McCutchen LLP. Schutte said the integration of the Bingham lawyers is mostly complete.
“Chicago is now a real focus of the firm,” Schutte said. “What we’ll keep doing is looking for strong practices that meet our overall strategy in the firm to grow.”
The other partners joining Morgan, Lewis are Sanjay K. Murthy, Christopher J. Betti and Amanda S. Williamson.
Murthy is a patent litigator registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office who has represented technology companies and other clients before federal juries and regulatory bodies.
Betti has a Ph.D. in molecular biology and focuses on pharmaceutical work, including counseling biosimilar applicants in matters related to the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act.
Williamson is an IP litigator who focuses on patent cases, having appeared in federal courts including the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
Abernathy and Kay Hoppe, a legal recruiter who represented him in the move, praised McKeon’s recruiting ability. They said she has a bold national plan and a personal touch.
Abernathy said McKeon was the first person he spoke with from Morgan, Lewis, and she led the entire process. Although she wasn’t in town, McKeon was sending e-mails to help plan Abernathy’s welcome dinner at Piccolo Sogno Due on Thursday night.
“It’s nice that someone in her position would send an e-mail to say, ‘Hey, welcome to the firm,’” he said. “But to have someone spend the time on that type of detail about dinner I felt to be very touching.”
As a member of K&L Gates’ management committee, Abernathy played a large role in recruiting.
He said he approaches it with caution, wary of overeager sales pitches. Morgan, Lewis pitched him on the firm’s collaborative culture, and he said that came through when the group of lawyers toasted to the firm — Morgan, Lewis — at dinner.
“When I recruited I was always very, very careful in what I tried to promise, because it’s a promise-making process,” he said. “So I was always very careful. And when someone (talks about) what a great place (their law firm) is, I’m like, ‘OK, I bet everyone says that.’ And it’s nice to be a skeptic and be proven wrong, too.”
Hoppe credited McKeon and Morgan, Lewis for attracting laterals who have strong connections to Chicago, including Tinos Diamantatos, who joined in 2013 from the U.S. attorney’s office.
“We’re in a battle for position among law firms,” Hoppe said. “So any law firm that does not have strong, effective management is in real trouble.”