Downey Brand’s new leaders promise fresh approach, more hires

Published: Friday, Mar. 14, 2014 - 4:47 pm

Despite the recent departures of some lawyers who went off to form their own firms, the newly named top managers of Sacramento’s Downey Brand LLP insist that their firm is not only on solid footing but in search of more talent to make their business a “one-stop shop” for clients seeking diverse expertise.

“We’re still an amazingly strong firm … with more than 100 attorneys,” said Scott Shapiro, Downey Brand’s new managing partner. “We’re making changes that will allow us to do even more to serve our clients.”

Downey Brand, which touts itself as Sacramento’s largest law firm, had an eventful February.

Kevin O’Brien stepped down as managing partner to focus on needs of the firm’s water clients, a byproduct of California’s drought issues. O’Brien’s shift of duties was accompanied by the announcement that attorneys Patrick Mitchell and G. Braiden Chadwick had left the firm to form their own boutique law firm, specializing in land-use issues from offices in Roseville. The new firm said six of its attorneys previously worked with Downey Brand’s land-use practice.

Then, a couple weeks later, two more lawyers left Downey Brand to form a firm in Sacramento. Nicole Gleason and Danielle Stephens, along with founding partners Jennifer Hartman King and Brandon Williams, launched King Williams & Gleason LLP, specializing in environmental, real estate and business law.

In today’s legal industry, it’s not unusual for attorneys with specific experience and skill sets to leave large firms and strike out on their own, working with a group of long-established clients.

But Shapiro conceded this week that the Downey Brand departures created “uncertainty within the firm, no doubt about it.”

Consequently, the firm set up a strategic planning retreat last weekend. On Monday, Downey Brand announced that its partners had elected Shapiro as the new managing partner and Stan Van Vleck as chair.

Shapiro specializes in large-scale projects to improve flood protection. Van Vleck, an agriculture attorney and fifth-generation rancher, joined the firm in 2012 when he and his partners in Stern, Van Vleck & McCarron were brought into Downey Brand to expand the firm’s presence in California’s food and agriculture industry.

Last weekend’s retreat also generated operational changes, according to the new leadership.

Shapiro said he did not want to share too many plans with the local competition, but he said Downey Brand will be making more announcements in the coming weeks and exploring more hires.

“We looked at everything,” Shapiro said.

Read more articles by Mark Glover

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