After nearly 40 years in the legal profession, Latham & Watkins partner Eric Bernthal is calling it quits.
The communications law partner and former D.C. managing partner is retiring from Latham after 26 years with the firm. Friday is his last day.
"For me, leaving Latham is really hard because I've absolutely loved my 26 years at the firm," Bernthal said in an interview. "It's really been a glorious ride."
Bernthal plans to spend his retirement wearing two hats: serving as chairman of The Humane Society of the United States and working alongside his actor son on a theatrical productions business.
About five years ago, Bernthal was introduced to Humane Society president and CEO Wayne Pacelle and joined the board of directors. In March, Bernthal was elected chairman of the board. For him, a love of animals has been a lifelong affair.
"I was four years old and my dad brought home a boxer puppy," he said. "I have felt a close kinship and bond with animals my whole life."
Bernthal and his son, Jon Bernthal, who played the role of Shane Walsh in the television series The Walking Dead, started a theatrical movie and production business. The two are planning an off-Broadway play for next year called Small Engine Repair.
Despite his practice in the telecommunications field, Eric said, it was Jon who introduced him to the world of television and movies.
James Barker, deputy managing partner of Latham's Washington office and a member of the communications practice, said in an interview that Bernthal hired him and served as one his most influential mentors.
According to headcount data compiled as part of the Legal Times 150, under Bernthal's leadership Latham's D.C. headcount grew from 144 attorneys in 2000 to 264 attorneys in 2011 – an 83 percent increase.
Bernthal and now-retired partner Gary Epstein founded the firm's communications practice during the 1980s. As D.C. managing partner, Bernthal oversaw the bulking-up and formation of several practices, including what Barker called the firm's "Wall Street in Washington" practice.
"He colonized a number of new practice areas and contributed to tremendous growth of existing ones," Barker said.
As an attorney, Barker said, Bernthal has expertise throughout the entire communications practice rather than a focus on a particular skill set.
"He has been as much a litigator as he has been a deal wizard," Barker said. "In many ways, I have never met a more extraordinary practitioner."
Bernthal said he plans to spend much of his new retirement in California, where he can be closer to his three sons. His primary residence will be a home in Venice Beach, but he also has a vacation home nestled in the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Lake Tahoe.
"I will be able to enjoy, in my new endeavors, a luxury of work-life balance either that you can't have at a big law firm or as a managing partner of a 300-plus attorney office," Bernthal said.