Goodbye, Howrey—Again and Again

The front door at Howrey has seen a lot of traffic.

At least a half dozen partners have left the law firm’s Pennsylvania Avenue offices since late February, when Howrey reported its dismal financial performance in 2009. Profits per partner dropped by 35 percent, with the average partner taking home $846,053, down from $1.3 million.

Washington defections include Matthew Moore to Latham & Watkins, Helen Michael and Jeffrey Lenser to Kilpatrick Stockton, Peter Unger to Arent Fox, and Eric Fingerhut to Dykema.

Everyone knows that people have left, but there’s some dispute about why. Over the past year, 20 to 25 partners across the firm were told their practices were no longer a good fit. Howrey’s managing partner, Robert Ruyak, says the recent moves out of the Washington office were part of this strategic trimming.

Not so, say some of the lawyers. Lenser, who spent 18 years at Howrey, says he’s “disappointed” to hear Ruyak’s version of the situation. “[Helen and I] were introduced to Kilpatrick Stockton over a year and a half ago, and the decision to leave Howrey was our own.”

One of the latest to depart was Cono Carrano, who landed at Akin Gump. Ruyak didn’t respond to requests for comment on the move, but Carrano says he left on his own and that a friend at Akin had been trying to lure him there for years.

Local legal recruiters are fielding plenty of calls from Howrey attorneys. “Unless you have these humongous cases that just can’t be moved, you’re looking,” says one. He adds that Howrey’s receptionists have caught on and are now screening calls from recruiters: “It’s like they built a fortress around there.”

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