Kaye Scholer’s LA office hit with another departure

Leaders of renewable energy, investment funds groups in LA hit the road
By Kylie Reynolds
Daily Journal Staff Writer

Adding to a recent string of partner defections, Kaye Scholer LLP’s Los Angeles office has lost another key player, this time from its renewable energy practice.

Jeffrey A. Chester, the former head of Kaye Scholer’s renewable energy project finance and development practice, jumped to the Los Angeles office of Morrison & Foerster LLP. His first day at MoFo was Wednesday.

His move comes only a day after sources confirmed that Timothy Spangler, chair of Kaye Scholer’s investment funds group, will start at Sidley Austin LLP in the coming weeks.

Chester, who had been with Kaye Scholer for about 14 years, represents clients from the renewable and alternative energy sector in financial transactions, including global capital raising, joint ventures and crossborder acquisitions. His clients have included Bank of America Corp. and U.S. subsidiaries of France-based EDF and Germany-based BayWa AG.

At MoFo, Chester will lead the firm’s renewable energy practice. He said the move provided him an opportunity to bring together the firm’s different practices, such as clean technology, energy and finance, to focus more directly on renewable energy.

“They have all the different pieces, but they didn’t have anyone to put together the whole package,” he said.

“That’s what I’m going to do.

His addition is part of MoFo’s broader planned growth in the energy and finance practices firmwide, said Pamela J. Reed, vice chair of the firm’s corporate and finance departments. She said Chester “connects many dots” for the firm’s energy clients.

He made the move along with associates Elizabeth C. Sluder and Julia R. Schiesel, who join as of counsel.

Legal recruiter Larry Watanabe of Watanabe Nason LLC brokered the deal.

Sandy Lechtick, president of legal recruiting firm Esquire Inc., who was not involved, said Chester and Spangler may have decided to leave Kaye Scholer to leverage the other firms’ client relationships. In the post-recession economy, he said, movement has been less about compensation and more about what platforms and cross-selling a firm can provide.

But the recent loss of key partners raises questions about the state of Kaye Scholer’s Los Angeles office.

Spangler, now headed for Sidley Austin, split his time between Kaye Scholer’s Los Angeles and New York offices for about seven years, representing clients in the formation, structuring and negotiation of various private investment funds. In July, the office saw another top departure when litigator Dan Grunfeld left to head Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP’s West Coast litigation practice. Before coming to Kaye Scholer in 2009 to help lead its Los Angeles litigation department, Grunfeld was president and CEO of Public Counsel and a policy adviser to former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

An industry observer familiar with the firm, who asked not to be named so as to preserve business relationships, said losing attorneys like Chester and Spangler doesn’t “bode well” for Kaye’s Los Angeles outpost. The office has had difficulty bringing in strong laterals in recent years, the source said, and the recent losses leave it without much transactional capability.

The source added that Chester’s departure means “one less good person in the L.A. office.

Kaye Scholer partner G. Thomas Stromberg, who co-manages the Los Angeles office, did not respond to multiple requests for comment about Chester’s departure. A firm spokeswoman said firmwide managing partner Michael Solow was unavailable for comment Wednesday.

Lechtick, however, said the firm has been doing well nationally, and the departures may simply be an example of competition the East Coast-based firm is seeing from firms that are better established on the West Coast.

Though it can draw attention anytime numerous partners leave a firm, he said, transactional attorneys are in demand and Kaye Scholer’s former partners may simply be seizing opportunities elsewhere.

kylie_reynolds@dailyjournal.com

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