Two Husch Blackwell Sanders partners kicked into high gear their plan to start their own firm after conflicts forced them to give up potential cases.
Commercial litigator Geoffrey Gerber on Sept. 1 joined former Husch Blackwell recruiting vice-chairman Pete Salsich III at The BrickHouse Law Group office in Lafayette Square. Salsich moved to the new firm Aug. 10, swapping a Clayton office tower for a first-floor office with windows that open to allow the scent from a smoker at the restaurant next-door to waft in.
The two lawyers focus on complex litigation, including intellectual property. Their exits are a late shakeout from the mergers last year of Husch & Eppenberger with Blackwell Sanders. The merger was followed about four months later by the addition of Chicago intellectual property firm Welsh & Katz to create a firm with more than 650 attorneys.
Joe Conran, co-chairman of Husch Blackwell, didn’t return a phone call by press time.
Salsich started mulling a move last winter after having to turn down work from two clients due to conflicts of interest, he said. He gradually came to the conclusion that he didn’t want to move to another large firm. He and Gerber talked about starting a new firm in the fall or after Jan. 1.
“In July I had a couple of matters that presented conflicts,” Salsich said. “It really slammed it home to me that at this point there’s no reason to wait.”
Salsich was able to move quickly into the BrickHouse Group office, which came equipped with phones, fax and Internet access. Salsich and Gerber said they will have more flexibility to set up alternative fees, including flat fees. They dropped their hourly rates by $50 to $275.
Salsich and Gerber declined to name clients that came with them to the firm. Both earlier had helped defend comic book creator Todd McFarlane in litigation filed by former Blues player Tony Twist over a comic book character with a similar name. Some pictures by McFarlane, including a sketch he made of the Mafia don character Antonio Twistelli during a trial, decorate the walls of the new office.
Gerber’s exit coincided with that of some of the 10 lawyers whose positions were axed in July in a third round of layoffs.
“It was very strange to be leaving Aug. 31 voluntarily when I had friends and colleagues who were leaving around the same time and they would rather have stayed,” Gerber said.
Among those leaving involuntarily was partner Dennis Donahue, an intellectual property attorney with a client base of start-up companies.
Donahue’s exit wasn’t due to performance issues, he said.
“It really was my practice. The clients that have come with me are much more entrepreneurial” and are smaller companies than the clients sought by Husch Blackwell, Donahue said.
Like his clients, Donahue, a former engineer, is taking the entrepreneurial route and starting Dennis Donahue & Associates out of his Olivette home. The firm includes only Donahue; the associates in the title refer to the attorneys Donahue works with overseas on patent and copyright work.
Donahue bought oversized divider walls and has a “defined” space in his basement near a window and sliding glass door for his office.
“I’m doing what I recommend to my entrepreneur clients,” Donahue said. “When you start off, you look at cash flow analysis. You make sure the cash flow you’re bringing in is more than you’re putting out.”