It's been almost three months since former Willkie Farr & Gallagher attorneys Gregory Bruch and Sandra Hanna started their own Washington boutique—not without challenges and rewards.
"We make our decisions together and we will share in the profits and losses," Bruch said.
Bruch and Hanna practiced together at Willkie, where Bruch was a partner and Hanna an associate. Their practice is largely focused on representing financial institutions and individuals in investigations both internal and by the government. They have one additional attorney—associate Khiran Sidhu—in the office.
"It's not easy to leave the comforts of a large law firm," Hanna said. "We have had to retrain ourselves and get back to first principles."
But there are also advantages to running a smaller shop, like no management committee and minimal client conflicts. Advances in technology—including electronic data storage—have made it easier to tackle big matters that Bruch said would not have been possible years ago. Another advantage, Hanna said, is the ability to be flexible and competitive on pricing.
"Because we don't have the bloated overhead of a large firm, we have the ability to staff up and not overcharge," Hanna said.
Bruch said the new firm took existing clients from Willkie—he declined to name them—and have already been approached by new clients. "Since we've left we have gotten referrals to represent three to four new financial institution clients," Bruch said. "The response has been much more enthusiastic than we thought."
The two first crossed paths when Bruch was at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and Hanna was a student at Georgetown University Law Center. Bruch served for 12 years at the SEC’s Division of Enforcement before returning to private practice at Foley & Lardner. There, he chaired the securities litigation, enforcement and regulation practice. He moved to Willkie in 2008.
Hanna previously practices at Morrison & Foerster, Foley & Lardner and, most recently, Willkie.
In February, Willkie was sued by a former client—Dennis Palmeri—for whom Bruch did work before recommending other counsel. Willkie initially represented Palmeri in connection with an investigation by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. Bruch is not a defendant in the lawsuit, which accuses Willkie of breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty. The suit is pending in New York state court.
Bruch said the lawsuit did not play into his decision to leave Willkie. “We are both in good standing there,” Bruch said.
While Hanna and Bruch are not necessarily looking to grow the firm, they said they will keep an eye out for talented attorneys with similar interests. They are particularly interested in adding more to the corporate governance and white-collar defense side of the practice.
"We don’t need bodies to share overhead, but we are interested in the right types of people at the partner and associate level," Bruch said.