So far true to its word, McKee Nelson is on track with the rapid expansion of its structured finance team, adding Thomas Amico, Michael Braun and Gail Watson, all former partners in New York office of Sidley Austin Brown & Wood.

The staff ramp-up is correlated with the opening of McKee Nelson's New York office last week, shortly after the firm hired three partners from Strook & Strook & Lavan: Reed Auerbach, Robert Wiperman and Matthew Joseph. Auerbach is managing partner in the NY office, and Wiperman will be an ABS group-head.

The structured finance practice was started about one year back when McKee Nelson brought over SF group-head John Arnholz and others to its Washington headquarters from the newly merged Sidley Austin Brown & Wood.

"Hiring Gail, Tom and Michael was the logical first move for us," said Will Nelson, co-founder of the firm. "They have all worked closely with John [in the Washington office], as they were all partners together from their days at Brown & Wood."

Interestingly, the group plans to continue its expansion with this sort of arm's length strategy. "We don't expect to use any headhunters," Auerbach said. "We know the people we've worked with and have respect for, so it's a little bit like a six degrees of separation... We're looking for people who one or more of us has respect for and has worked with."

In addition to the partners, several associate level hires have already taken place. By the end of June, Auerbach expects to have as many as 20 law professionals in the New York office.

Last week, the team closed its first transaction out of the new office, Ameriquest 2002-B (Freddie Mac T-43). According to Auerbach, the firm will close on several more this week. McKee Nelson is an independent law firm allied with Ernst & Young.

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