Honigman’s Big Law poaching goes the other way as DLA Piper hires away 27

Together, those four partners drove deals that made Honigman the No. 2 most active law firm in the U.S. in 2021 for private equity, and No. 4 globally, according to rankings by the global research firm PitchBook.

“We’ve gotten our share of benefit from it,” Foltyn said Friday. “It’s our turn, now, to see this group go.”

DLA Piper saw the practice group, led by Eisenberg and Plakas, as a “tremendous opportunity” for the firm to grow through middle-market private equity deals, said Joe Alexander, DLA Piper’s U.S. vice chairman.

“This premier group, led by Harris and Alex, exemplifies what we’re looking for: top-notch practitioners who are difference makers in major markets,” Alexander said in a statement.

For DLA Piper, the deal adds 27 lawyers to its Chicago office, which employed 168 attorneys in 2021, making it the 12th-largest law firm in the Windy City last year, according to Crain’s data on Chicago law firms.

Honigman had 324 attorneys worldwide in 2021, 274 of whom were based in Michigan as of June, making it the state’s largest law firm by number of lawyers in Michigan, according to the Crain’s Data Center.

Foltyn said several of the junior members of the Chicago-based team “were shocked” they were leaving Honigman abruptly this week to follow their bosses to DLA Piper. “But they don’t have much choice because those were the guys they were working for,” Foltyn said.

A 27-attorney grab is not the largest lateral move on record — there was a 43-attorney move earlier this month in New York — but it’s significant, said legal recruiter Kay Hoppe.

Hoppe said it adds to the trend of large group hires from smaller firms, which can be more efficient for staffing up quickly.

“Private equity is highly prized and getting substantial business in private equity is something many firms aspire to,” Hoppe told Crain’s Chicago Business. “So you have to take note when you see a deal of this size.”

Given the active market for lawyers jumping to other firms, those in the deal-making space are more than used to hearing about these types of moves.

M&A experts note that the work generally continues uninterrupted given the long-standing relationships that tend to exist, said Rajesh Kothari, a managing director with Cascade Partners, a Southfield-based investment bank.

“So much of (this business) is relationship-driven,” said Kothari, who said he has done several deals with Honigman M&A attorneys, largely in Michigan.

Honigman’s CEO was optimistic the 74-year-old law firm would be able to rebuild as it continues its yearslong strategy to grow through lateral hires.

“We are hearing from the street that there are other lawyers interested in bringing their practices to us,” Foltyn said, “and growing their practice off our platform in the same way that Harris (Eisenberg) and Alex (Plakas) did.”

Crain’s Staff Reporter Nick Manes and Elyssa Cherney of Crain’s Chicago Business contributed to this report.