Defections, Key Client Loss Take Toll at Dow Lohnes
Any merger involving Dow Lohnes, which was founded in 1918 and has resisted combining with other firms over the years, would be the largest in the D.C. market since Bingham acquired 120-lawyer McKee Nelson in 2009. As of now, the firm is not acknowledging that such a deal is a possibility.
“Dow Lohnes has premier practices in the communications, new media, and higher education sectors,” the firm said in a statement provided to The Am Law Daily. “Our firm is focused, as it always has been, on serving the legal needs of our valued clients in these and other areas. We do not comment on speculation, clients, or attorney departures.”
Heading for the Exits
This year's attorney exodus began in February with the departure of D.C. lobbying and public policy partners Kenneth Salomon, James Burger, and Christopher Murray to Thompson Coburn. Salomon, a former chairman of Dow Lohnes Government Strategies, had spent 33 years at the firm.
In making the move, the group brought along a roster of lobbying clients that include Overstock.com, STMicroelectronics, and the Association for Information Communications Technology Professionals in Higher Education, according to sibling publication The Blog of Legal Times. Four months later, telecom regulatory partners Gary Lutzker and J. Christopher Redding left for Baker & Hostetler in D.C., with Redding joining the firm as of counsel.
Then came an even bigger blow.
Sibling publication the Daily Report reported in July that Dow Lohnes’s Atlanta office was undergoing a major shakeup thanks to Cox's decision to rely on other firms for legal representation. The privately owned Cox—whose holdings include The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Cox Communications, the country's third-largest cable system operator—had until then provided the firm with an array of corporate, litigation, regulatory, and tax work. A former Dow Lohnes partner says that Cox was the firm's largest client.
Deep Ties to Cox
Dow Lohnes's relationship with Cox began nearly three decades ago with the 1980s launch of the firm's Atlanta office—its first outside D.C.—following the hire of partner Marion “Chip” Allen III, who brought with him Cox as a client. In addition to leading the Atlanta office, Allen went on to serve as chairman of Dow Lohnes until his death in 1998 in a plane crash near Atlanta that also claimed the lives of three other Dow Lohnes partners, all of whom did work for Cox.
Allen, 53, was piloting a twin-engine Cessna jet when it collided with a second, smaller plane. The families of the four Dow Lohnes partners later sued the federal government and a Georgia electric utility in connection with the crash, agreeing to a $42 million settlement in 2000, according to the Daily Report. (In the years since, Cox has hosted an annual conservation award named in Allen’s honor.)
Dow Lohnes continued handling work for Cox in the wake of the tragedy, advising the company in litigation (including a high-profile libel suit filed against the Journal-Constitution by Richard Jewell, a former security guard wrongfully accused of bombing the 1996 Olympics), advertising disputes, wireless spectrum sales, telecom mergers, and other transactions. In 2006, for instance, the firm handled Cox's $3.2 billion sale of two cable television systems. Three years later, it advised Cox on its sale of a 65 percent stake in the Travel Channel.
The ties between firm and client endured in other ways. Former Dow Lohnes partner Andrew Merdek spent more than 22 years at Cox—including 17 as general counsel—until retiring in 2010. Longtime Cox in-house lawyer Shauna Sullivan Muhl, who did not come from Dow Lohnes, succeeded Merdek as the company's in-house legal chief. Former Dow Lohnes associate Robin Sangston continues to serve as Cox’s vice president of compliance. And former partner Peter Cassat left the firm in 2011 to become general counsel of the AutoTrader Group, a Cox subsidiary.