A dozen attorneys have left prominent Austin law firm Graves Dougherty Hearon & Moody since the beginning of the year, including 10 who started working at rival McGinnis Lochridge on Thursday, marking a significant shift in the local legal community.
The moves come after merger talks between Graves Dougherty and McGinnis Lochridge, both venerable Austin firms, failed to result in a deal last year. McGinnis Lochridge was founded in 1927 and recently celebrated its 90th anniversary, while Graves Dougherty was founded in 1946.
Graves Dougherty will have 38 attorneys in the wake of its recent attrition — down more than 20 percent.
McGinnis Lochridge’s roster of Austin attorneys has climbed by more than 25 percent, to 48. It also has eight lawyers in Houston.
John B. McFarland, a lawyer and shareholder with Graves Dougherty, declined to comment on the reasons for the departures, saying he was unable to speak for the attorneys who opted to leave. He also declined to comment on last year’s merger discussions, referring questions about the attrition to a prepared statement from his firm that wished success to the 10 attorneys who left at the same time for McGinnis Lochridge.
“McGinnis Lochridge is fortunate to be adding a group of talented lawyers,” the statement said. “Many of them were longtime members of our firm and served our clients well.”
Graves Dougherty remains “committed to providing the highest quality legal services to our clients,” the statement continued. “We will continue to focus on our core practices, including litigation, appellate, real estate and energy law.”
The American-Statesman is a client of Graves Dougherty.
Ed McHorse, a veteran attorney for Graves Dougherty who is among the group to leave for McGinnis, said his decision wasn’t related to the unsuccessful merger talks.
“It was well after that (merger discussion) had ended,” McHorse said. “My goals on where I want my practice to develop, and I would like to develop, over the next 20 years aligns very well with the McGinnis strategy.”
He praised Graves Dougherty for having “great lawyers and a great client base,” saying he and the others in the group simply “enjoy practicing together and have a common outlook.”
Doug Dodds, managing partner of McGinnis Lochridge, said his firm is aiming to continue to grow and add lawyers in both Austin and Houston, even after bringing on board the group of 10 Graves Dougherty attorneys. Areas of practice for McGinnis Lochridge include regulatory matters, oil and gas litigation, real estate and corporate law, as well as others.
“Really in any of our practice areas, if we can add the right lawyers where we can add depth, we would be interested in that,” Dodds said. “We’re looking at other lawyers here in Austin, although not a group of the size we’re adding” from Graves Dougherty.
He downplayed the significance of the 2017 merger talks between his firm and Graves Dougherty.
“We did have conversations last year about a possible combination,” he said. But “we knew at the outset that would be a long shot. For a variety of reasons, it didn’t work out.”
In addition to McHorse, the former Graves Dougherty attorneys who have joined McGinnis Lochridge as partners include Cliff Ernst, Clark Lutz, Martin Lutz, Doug Jones and Russell Booth. Associates Alison Lenner, Shana McGirl and Martha Todd also have joined, as has Of Counsel Ali Gallagher.
About three weeks ago, real estate attorneys Michael Whellan and Travis Phillips left Graves Dougherty to join Armbrust & Brown.
Editors Note: Following publication of this story, law firm Cornell Smith Mierl & Brutocao announced Thursday that attorney Susan Burton has joined it from Graves Dougherty and will be a named partner. The firm has changed its name to Cornell Smith Mierl Brutocao Burton.