In the spring of 2012, Nancy Grunberg got a call from a recruiter asking if she would consider talking to attorneys from the Washington office of McKenna Long & Aldridge. Grunberg, then the co-head of Venable's Securities and Exchange Commission and white-collar defense practice, had been with the firm for more than 10 years.
"I didn't know that much about the firm," Grunberg said. "I was open-minded about McKenna. We didn't feel pressure to get out, so we took our time."
And took their time they did. Tami Azorsky, chairwoman of McKenna's litigation department, spent almost 18 months recruiting Grunberg and two of her Venable colleagues, partners Treazure Johnson and George Kostolampros, before they joined McKenna in June.
"We mercilessly pursued them," Azorsky said.
After an introduction by legal recruiting firm Mestel & Co., Azorsky took the lead on wooing Grunberg, Johnson and Kostolampros. She invited the trio to McKenna's K Street office for a meet-and-greet with Michael Scheininger, head of McKenna's white-collar practice, and firm managing partner T. Mark Flanagan Jr.
"I immediately liked them," Azorsky said. "I like the way they talk to each other and cooperated in conversation. They have their individual strengths but collaborate well together."
In the months following their introduction, Grunberg, Johnson and Kostolampros met with firm attorneys several times, even flying down to Atlanta to meet partners in the corporate practice.
"McKenna recruited us vigorously," Grunberg said. "They made a compelling case that they have practice areas that will help us grow our SEC enforcement practices."
While it is not uncommon to use a recruiting firm, Azorsky said that she prefers recommendations from McKenna attorneys. More often than not, it's these referrals that lead to lateral hires. Either way, it's no easy task to pursue laterals.
"Regardless of whether the introduction is done by a recruiter, the recruitment process has to be done by the lawyers at the firm," Azorsky said.
McKenna wanted to add partners to compliment Washington's thriving regulatory enforcement practice, Azorsky said. The main driver is client demand.
"We have a vibrant practice in the areas of financial fraud and financial regulation compliance," Azorsky said. "Increasingly we saw SEC issues being raised in those investigations. We really wanted a well-credentialed group of lawyers."
Grunberg did two stints with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, totaling nine years. Her most recent tenure lasted from 1996 to 2002, during which she was assistant director in the Division of Enforcement.
Likewise, Johnson and Kostolampros both served in the Enforcement Division. Johnson was a senior assistant chief litigation counsel, while Kostolampros was senior counsel. Johnson's main responsibilities included handling enforcement matters related to financial fraud, insider trading, Internet fraud and market manipulation. Her current work encompasses criminal investigations, prosecutions and corporate governance. Kostolampros' work deals with insider trading, anti-corruption and Foreign Corrupt Practices Act matters.
When the trio left Venable, W. Warren Hamel became the sole chairman of the SEC and white-collar practice. In an interview, he said that while it was sad to see his colleagues leave, the practice remained strong.
"From a personal perspective, we are going to miss Nancy, Treazure and George," Hamel said. "It's not going to have a ripple effect on the remainder of the group."
Hamel touted the experience of partner Michael Rivera, chairman of the securities enforcement and compliance practice. Rivera is the former chief investigative counsel for the Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program. In that role, he was oversaw the TARP's financial relief programs. A substantial part of that involved investigating claims of fraud.
But while Rivera, who joined Venable in April, brings a wealth of government experience, he walked into the private practice without a book of business.
"He'll be working on firm matters and be able to generate his own business in short order," Hamel said.
Rivera said he's confident that his experience will open the door to business opportunities, especially with work related to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
"We have a lot of clients that we do work for in the marketing and advertising space that are really in the areas where the CFPB is going to focus in the future," Rivera said. "The CFPB has not slowed down and it does not look like it's slowing down."
Hamel said that he is always on the lookout for excellent attorneys to help expand the practice.
"I think we take the general view that a really good lawyer and an effective legal mind is someone we would like to work with," Hamel said.