Four partners defect from Armstrong

Litigators form new firm; clients A-B, BJC HealthCare, Shell Oil expected to follow

by Rick Desloge

St. Louis Business Journal — May 11, 2011

Four partners are leaving Armstrong Teasdale to form their own litigation firm.

They are Steve Sanders, 51; Paul Venker, 45; Ted Williams Jr.,   53; and Thomas Orris, 45.  Their new practice - Williams, Venker & Sanders - could have as many as six associates.

"We will have to have other (lawyer) help," Sanders said, "but who that might be remains to be determined."

Richard Sherrer, Armstrong Teasdale's managing partner, said he is working closely with Sanders to assure a smooth transition for clients.  "We anticipate there will be a referral agreement between the two firms," he said.

Sanders said the firm hopes to represent Armstrong Teasdale clients here and in Kansas City, particularly in cases where Armstrong Teasdale faces client conflicts.

Neither Scherrer nor Sanders would comment on which clients might switch to the new firm or the dollar volume of business handled by the four departing partners.  But a lawyer familiar with Armstrong Teasdale said the group generated 10 percent of Armstrong Teasdale's profits and represented clients such as BJC HealthCare, Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc. and Shell Oil Co., which are expected to follow.

Sanders called the 10 percent figure "a wild guess."

The four partners' official last day at Armstrong Teasdale was to be May 11.  Williams, Venker & Sanders planned to open May 14 in a 9,100 square-foot office in the Equitable Building downtown.

Sanders said the four litigators had discussed forming their own firm for two years and decided earlier this year to take action.

Armstrong Teasdale is the third-largest law firm in St. Louis.  Its local litigation practice is made up of about 80n lawyers.  Of the firm's 224 lawyers, 163 are based in St. Louis, where it represents corporate clients such as Ameren Corp., Spartech Corp., Southwest Bank of St. Louis and the St. Louis Cardinals.

The law firm's estimated 1999 revenue was $49.7 million, when it had 202 lawyers.  People familiar with the firm estimated revenue last year at $50 million to $55 million.  Scherrer declined to disclose the firm's 2000 revenue.

The four partners who are leaving specialize in defending corporations that face lawsuits in medical malpractice, product liability, railroad issues and employment issues.  However, insurance companies have tightened the amounts they are willing to spend on defending such cases, making them less profitable, said lawyers familiar with those practice areas.

It's common for specialty lawyers to leave a large firm and set up a niche practice, said Aaron Williams, president of Aaron Consulting Inc., anational lawyer recruiting firm based in St. Louis.  "It's especially common with people at this level of partnership."

Williams noted the Rabbitt, Pitzer & Snodgrass firm split from Brown & James several years ago, and the former Reizman & Blitz firm split into Reizman Berger and Blitz, Bargett & Deutch in the last two years.

Scherrer said litigation remains an important part of Armstrong Teasdale, but he said the firm is concentrating on growing practice areas, such as intellectual property law, a group with more than 20 lawyers.