Kasowitz Opens Entertainment Practice: Business of Law

Two NBCUniversal Media LLC lawyers joined Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman LLP to open an entertainment litigation practice in the Los Angeles office.

Former NBCUniversal attorneys John Berlinski, who was senior vice president and head of West Coast television litigation, and Mansi Shah, who was senior litigation counsel, joined the firm as partners.

Berlinski will be chairman of the firm’s entertainment practice group, which will primarily represent TV and film entertainers and talent agencies, the firm said in a statement. The two new lawyers will represent talent in the audit process and resolutions process, including in litigation.

“They bring impressive industry backgrounds, which perfectly complement the powerful litigation practice we’ve established throughout the country,” Marc Kasowitz, the firm’s founding and managing partner, said of the new partners in a statement. “Talent can now retain industry insiders for their most significant disputes and bring to bear the type of resources previously reserved for the big Hollywood Studios.”

While at NBCUniversal, Berlinski managed all of the company’s West Coast television litigation, as well as pre-litigation disputes involving profit participation, copyright, idea theft and right to privacy, among other matters. He also led a team of lawyers who advised the company on negotiation of profit participation contracts, the issuance of accounting statements, audits and the resolution of audit claims, according to Kasowitz.

Shah handled entertainment disputes while at NBCUniversal, including acting as the lead lawyer for the team responsible for the company’s television profit participation litigation as well as legal issues concerning profit participation audits.

Kasowitz Benson has more than 375 lawyers at offices in New York, Washington, Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, Houston, Atlanta, San Francisco, Miami and Newark, New Jersey.

Littler Mendelson Joins with Columbian and Costa Rican Firms

Employment law firm Littler Mendelson PC will combine with Colombian law firm Godoy Cordoba Abogados and Costa Rican law firm BDS Asesores under the name “Littler Global,” through a Swiss Verein, which is an association of firms that limit liability and don’t share a common profit pool.

“As our clients increasingly view labor and employment law as an international, rather than a strictly local challenge, Littler continues to grow to meet their needs,” Jeremy Roth, Littler’s co-managing director, said in a statement. “This is a mutually beneficial move for all three practices as we are teaming up to form a single-source solution for the global employer community.”

The combination gives Littler 150 Spanish-speaking attorneys across its 57 locations, including its existing offices in Venezuela, which opened in 2010 and Mexico, which opened in 2012. Littler has more than 980 lawyers.

Godoy Cordoba Abogados, which has 27 attorneys, is based in Bogota and has an office in Barranquilla. It is the largest labor, employment and immigration law firm in Colombia and is led by partners Carlos Hernan Godoy Fajardo, Andres Godoy Cordoba and Luis Alejandro Cordoba Escamilla, Littler said.

“Littler’s outstanding reputation, combined with its extensive resources, will enable us to further develop our practice and increase our international profile beyond Colombia’s borders,” Andres Godoy, the firm’s managing partner, said in the Littler statement.

BDS Asesores has 14 attorneys at offices in Costa Rica, El Salvador and Panama. The firm, led by Marco Durante Calvo and partners Francisco Salas Chaves and Alejandro Trejos Gomez, has specialized practices in public and private labor law, litigation and payroll management.

U.S. Law Firm Mergers Increase 41 Percent in 2013

Law firm mergers are booming, up 41 percent for the first three quarters of the year from the same period last year, according to legal consulting firm Altman Weil’s MergerLine.

Nineteen law firm mergers and acquisitions were announced in the U.S. in the third quarter, putting the year’s total at

58. The largest deal combined Kansas City, Missouri-based Stinson Morrison Hecker and Minneapolis-based Leonard Street & Deinard, resulting in a 500-lawyer firm.

“A large combination of similarly sized firms -- what we call a ‘merger of equals’ -- is relatively rare,” Altman Weil principal Tom Clay said in a statement. “There have been fewer than a dozen in the last six years, and the majority have been between Midwestern law firms.”

Another large combination announced in the third quarter was between Lewis & Roca, a 175-lawyer firm based in Phoenix, and Denver-based Rothgerber Johnson & Lyons, with 75 lawyers.

Ballard Spahr LLP and Schiff Hardin LLP both acquired small New York City firms in July while Blank Rome LLP took over a Houston maritime boutique in August.

“When demand is flat, acquiring a small firm and its clients is probably the easiest way to get new business,” Clay said. “There is virtually no risk for the acquirer.”


London Real Estate Partner Joins Mayer Brown

Mayer Brown LLP said that Patricia Jones, formerly of SJ Berwin LLP, joined its real estate group in London.

Jones has advised both domestic and international clients from the real estate and retail sectors on complex structured development, investment and joint ventures, the firm said. Most recently, she acted for British Land on the redevelopment of the Shoreditch Estate in East London, according to Mayer Brown.

“At a time of volatility in the real estate legal market we are strengthening our team with the very best and are increasing our numbers to reflect the requirements of both our domestic and overseas clients,” Martin Wright, head of European real estate at the firm, said in a statement.

Mayer Brown has lawyers in the Americas, Asia and Europe.

K&L Gates Adds Partners in Perth, Frankfurt

K&L Gates LLP added Alex Eastwood as a partner in the energy, infrastructure and resources practice in Perth, Australia. Previously, Eastwood was general counsel of Gryphon Minerals Ltd.

The Frankfurt office of K&L Gates also added a partner. Klaus Banke, who was previously at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP, joins the corporate/M&A practice.

Eastwood has almost 20 years of experience advising companies predominantly in the energy and resources, mining services and technology sectors, according to the firm. At Gryphon, he advised on matters related to the permitting and project funding of the Banfora Gold Project in Burkina Faso, West Africa.

Banke advises international and German companies on M&A transactions and joint ventures, as well as on general corporate law, the firm said in a statement. He focuses primarily on cross-border transactions, particularly French-German matters, and in the energy sector, the firm said.

K&L Gates has 48 offices in the U.S., Asia, Australia, Europe, the Middle East and South America

Perkins Coie Adds Bankruptcy and Restructuring Partner

Perkins Coie LLP said that John D. Penn joined the Dallas office as a partner in the bankruptcy and restructuring practice. He was most recently a partner with Haynes & Boone LLP in Fort Worth.

He will also spend time as needed in the firm’s New York office working on Chapter 11 bankruptcy filings there.

Perkins Coie has more than 900 lawyers in 19 offices in the U.S. and Asia.

Hausfeld Hires Freshfields Cartel and Disputes Lawyer

Hausfeld & Co LLP added to its European practice by hiring Boris Bronfentrinker, who joined the firm as a partner from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP, where he was a senior lawyer in the cartel defense and commercial disputes practice.

Bronfentrinker has spent the past seven years defending cartelists. He has experience related to private enforcement in the English High Court and the Competition Appeal Tribunal, as well as general competition law and general commercial litigation, the firm said.

Hausfeld has 12 lawyers at its London office.


Patent Suits Targeted as U.S. High Court Takes Fee Cases

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear two appeals that would make it easier for targets of patent suits to collect attorneys’ fees, agreeing to consider steps that some companies say would deter groundless litigation.

The court said Oct. 1 it will hear arguments from Octane Fitness LLC, which is seeking $1.3 million in fees after defeating a patent suit over exercise equipment. The justices also accepted an appeal by Highmark Inc., a Pennsylvania insurer asking for $5 million from a company that unsuccessfully sued for patent infringement.

Companies targeted by patent suits, including Google Inc., say fee awards are needed to stem a costly trend of frivolous litigation. A White House report said more than 100,000 companies were threatened last year with infringement suits by businesses whose sole mission is to extract royalty revenue. Those entities, dubbed “patent trolls” by critics, filed 19 percent of all patent lawsuits from 2007 to 2011, according to the Government Accountability Office.

“With the average patent case costing millions of dollars to litigate, the threat of paying the prevailing party’s attorney’s fees is a powerful deterrent to frivolous claims and litigation mischief,” the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, a Washington-based trade group, argued in court papers urging the high court to intervene in the Highmark case.

The U.S. Patent Act says fees can be awarded “in exceptional cases.” Octane contends the federal appeals court that handles patent cases, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, has developed a “rigid and virtually insurmountable test” for implementing that statutory language.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments and rule by early July in the two cases.

The cases are Octane Fitness v. Icon Health & Fitness, 12-1184, and Highmark v. Allcare Health Management Systems, 12-1163.

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