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Ten partners defect to form new Triangle legal practice

June 9, 2012

Ten partners from two giant law firms – K&L Gates and Womble Carlyle – are joining to form a new Triangle legal practice.

The new firm, Morningstar Law Group, is based in Morrisville and bills itself as a full-service business law firm.

“We have litigation, IP (intellectual property), real estate, corporate,” said Mack Paul, a former real estate attorney for K&L Gates and one of the firm’s co-founders. “We can handle almost all aspects for the emerging middle-market and larger businesses in this region.”

Morningstar’s co-founders include six former K&L Gates partners and four former Womble partners. Two associates from K&L Gates also have joined the new firm.

Morningstar co-founder Kenneth G. Carroll, a former managing partner of Womble Carlyle’s Research Triangle Park office, said his new firm can offer “more nimble pricing” given its much smaller size.

“As you might imagine, large law firms have enormous infrastructure,” he said. “To absorb those kinds of expenses, you have higher billing rates.”

Tom Kane, a law firm marketing consultant based in High Point, said that’s a good marketing pitch.

“In today’s climate, saying you came from a large law firm like K&L Gates or Womble Carlyle, and saying your rates are going to be more reasonable, … it makes sense,” Kane said.

K&L Gates is an international law firm with nearly 2,000 lawyers. Womble Carlyle has more than 550 attorneys in 14 offices.

Johnny Loper, managing partner of the Raleigh office of Womble Carlyle, which has about 70 lawyers in the Triangle, lavished praise on his ex-partners.

“The four people who left our firm are all superb lawyers, and they are even better human beings,” Loper said. “We parted on nothing but wonderful terms.”

Loper said he anticipates his firm will continue to work jointly with the Morningstar attorneys on some client projects and will refer work to them as well.

A K&L Gates official couldn’t be reached for comment.

Paul said the Morningstar founders have brought a number of clients with them, but he declined to disclose them without having their approval.

In addition to Mack and Carroll, the Morningstar co-founders include former K&L Gates partners Jason L. Barron, William J. Brian Jr., Patrick L. Byker, Grayson S. Hale and Stephanie C. Powell; and former Womble partners Jennifer L. Collins, Gene Jones and W.H. “Kip” Johnson III.

As for the name, Carroll said the firm deliberately chose to avoid the traditional approach of stringing together the lead partners’ last names.

They hit on Morningstar as a symbol of the “dawn of a new day in legal services,” he said. “I hope that’s not hokey sounding, but that is what we were trying to accomplish.”

Kane said he is impressed that the lawyers were able to keep their egos in check rather than insisting that their names be on the firm’s letterhead.

“It sounds like a pretty congenial group,” he said.

Indeed, the firm deliberately hasn’t chosen a managing partner. Instead, at least for now, the decisions are being made by consensus.

“We are trying to put in place certain practices that will foster greater collaboration and sharing and collegiality,” Paul said. “Those kind of things are harder to do in a 2,000-lawyer firm.”

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