For a brand-new law firm, Watters Wolf Bub Hansmann has no shortage of work.
“In the first three weeks of our existence, we’re now on our third one-week trial, we’ve had two arguments before the 8th Circuit and had two motions for summary judgment come back,” said founder Russ Watters. “We may not know where the paperclips are, but we know where the courthouse is.”
If that sounds like the schedule of a more established firm, that’s because in some ways Watters Wolf Bub Hansmann is an established firm. Watters, along with 31 of the top trial attorneys at the St. Louis law firm of Brown & James, have spent the last six months splitting off to form a practice dedicated to trial work. They quietly launched their new operation, based in Town and Country in western St. Louis County, on Sept. 1.
According to the new firm’s website, the six founding partners — Watters, Tim Wolf, David Bub, Brad Hansmann, Bob Brady and Jackie Kinder — along with other principals in the firm have more than 500 trials under their belts.
Watters, speaking in a joint interview with Wolf, said the firm’s personnel can “walk into a courtroom anywhere and feel comfortable.”
“We can take [clients] all the way through the adversarial process, from pre-suit to suit to appellate work, and if there are disputes in coverage, the insurance area as well,” he said. “And that’s all we’re going to be doing.”
In an age when many small and midsize firms have merged with larger operations to expand their reach, Watters Wolf Bub Hansmann is the rare firm of substantial size to be formed almost entirely by splitting off from a larger firm. Its website currently lists 32 attorneys, including 14 principals, but one lateral and 12 law-school graduates who recently passed the bar are coming on board.
They plan to expand to 50 or more lawyers. Although Watters described it as a trial-focused boutique, Watters Wolf Bub Hansmann would be among the 25 largest law firms in the state, based on Missouri Lawyers Media’s 2022 publication The Firms.
Watters, who helped found Brown & James in 1981, said the split with his former firm was amicable and conducted in a transparent matter.
“From a professional standpoint, we wanted to be independent and make our own decisions,” Watters said.
T. Michael Ward, Brown & James’ managing partner wrote in an email that the departure of Watters’ practice group “has had no impact on the firm” and that it remains one of the preeminent defense firms in the region with 80 lawyers, including 12 associates hired so far this year.
“The departure was an amicable one,” Ward wrote. “The departing lawyers were our colleagues for many years. They are very fine lawyers. We wish them the best of success with their new firm.”
Ward said Brown & James remains committed to downtown St. Louis and is negotiating with several office buildings in the downtown area to sign a new long-term lease once its current lease expires in 2023.
In contrast, Watters Wolf Bub Hansmann is well outside of downtown, with an office at 600 Kellwood Parkway, near the intersection of Routes 40 and 141. Wolf said the firm is building a state-of-the-art facility with rooms for mock juries and focus groups necessary for trial work.
“Not to be the Google of the law, but we do have a bocci ball court and a chipping and putting green,” he said.
The new firm also has the benefit of having been built from the ground up with the remote-work lessons of the pandemic in mind. Wolf — speaking via videoconference from the St. Louis County Courthouse while he awaited a verdict — said the firm made a point of issuing every lawyer and staff member a laptop computer.
“Everyone can work wherever they are and do whatever they need to do,” Wolf said. “It’s an employee-centric environment. We want people to have that flexibility at all levels.”
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