Less than a year after launch, litigation boutique splits apart

The four partners of Orange County litigation boutique go two separate ways
By Alexandra Schwappach
Daily Journal Staff Writer

Less than a year after its launch, litigation boutique Keller Rackauckas Umberg Zipser LLP is no more.

The six-attorney firm – created by Orange County power litigators Jennifer L. Keller, Kay Rackauckas, Thomas J.

Umberg and Dean J. Zipser – disbanded mid-January about eight months after it was formed.

Umberg said the separation was amicable and the attorneys remain close. The four name partners come from different backgrounds and firm environments, he added.

“We come from different cultures,” he said. “And we had different visions for the future of the firm.

Both Umberg and Zipser come from big firm backgrounds. They were attorneys in the Costa Mesa office of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips LLP before splitting to join forces with Keller and Rackauckas last May. The two litigators also worked together at Morrison & Foerster LLP but left shortly before the firm’s Orange County office closed in 2008.

The duo’s new Irvine firm, Umberg Zipser LLP, has four attorneys and practices in commercial litigation, white collar investigations, class actions, intellectual property and government and regulatory law.

Umberg hopes to grow the firm and said it plans to add a senior attorney to its ranks next week.

“Ideally, we’d like to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 to 15 attorneys with a mixed client base,” he said.

“We want to do some defense but also some plaintiff and class action work.

Keller Rackauckas LLP, also in Irvine, is home to seven attorneys. Its practice areas include commercial litigation, white collar criminal defense, class actions, intellectual property and bad faith.

Keller said the two sets of attorneys had different methods of approaching their legal work. They decided that it would benefit everyone to part ways.

“Kay and I had always been at small firms and they had always been with very large firms,” Keller said. “Integrating the two styles was not easy.

Keller’s big cases include representing MGA Entertainment Inc. in a copyright infringement fight with toymaker Mattel Inc. over the Bratz doll line. Both she and Rackauckas have worked in private practice for more than a decade.Keller and Rackauckas have worked together on many matters, including a business fraud case last April that resulted in an award of more than $4.6 million in damages. Larian v. Talassazan, et al., SC110882 (L.A. Super. Ct., filed Dec. 29, 2010).

“We are really happy,” Keller said of the new firm. “Business is booming and we are looking forward to continue trying big cases.

Sandy Lechtick, founder of legal search firm Esquire Inc., said the attorneys might have decided to divide because the litigation boutique housed “too many cooks in the kitchen.

“They might have had different ideas of how a firm should run,” he said. “They are all prominent, well-known attorneys. My guess is that they will all do well on their own.

After what seemed to be an increase in experienced attorneys jumping from big firms to start their own small practices, the opposite now appears to be occurring, Lechtick said. More small firms are looking to join with bigger outfits to become more full service.

Lechtick said in today’s economic environment, fewer small firms are being created and more are being “gobbled up.

“Small firms did well years ago because they could undercut big firms,” he said. “But big firms have cut their rates too and that has increased competition even more.

alexandra_schwappach@dailyjournal.com

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