What is this, some sort of securitization lawyer cult?

McKee Nelson added another round of hires to its structured finance team last week, nabbing Laurence Isaacson and company, a group of CDO gurus, from Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson.

According to partners John Arnholz and Reed Auerbach, adding a more solid CDO/derivative component to the firm marks the close of a year-long staffing effort that has rocketed the firm to the top of the structured finance league tables, as indicated in the chart below, generated from Thomson Financial's numbers.

"In many respects, Larry and his group complete the initial building efforts of our group," Auerbach said.

Isaacson has been party to the development of the legal framework for many cutting-edge deals in the CDO and derivative space, and worked on the first CDO of CDOs, Arnholz said. "We've had our eyes on Larry from the first moment we thought about building the group," he added.

Joining with Isaacson are several of his group members, including Andrew Kwok, Eric Rubenfeld and the rest of his team of associates and legal assistants.

This round of hires follows McKee taking Ed De Sear from Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe in late May. According to a McKee statement, De Sear was Isaacson's mentor at some point in their careers.

Pledging allegiance

As noted, it's been just over a year since McKee began ramping up its structured finance group, marked by the hire of Auerbach in May 2002 as the New York office managing partner, Robert Wipperman, as partner and ABS group head, and Matthew Joseph, as partner in the ABS group. All three came over from Stroock & Stroock & Lavan. Since then the group has grown in size to nearly 50 in the New York office, which opened its doors just a few weeks following the Stroock hires.

Stroock, which had historically been in the top two for representing underwriters in ABS, lost significant market share shortly after Auerbach's group moved over, though still manages, for the most part, to stay within the top 10.

The securitization group at McKee was formed in May 2001, mostly through a migration of top name attorneys - including group head Arnholz - from Brown & Wood shortly after it merged with Sidley Austin (now, collectively, Sidley Austin Brown & Wood).

Along with Arnholz came Edward Gainor, Thomas Lyden, Nicholas Signh and John Steele, among several others, who essentially built the new practice from the ground up.

Arnholz noted that in forming the group, no recruiters were used, but it was constructed piece-by-piece via past relationships and word-of-mouth.

McKee Nelson is an independent law firm allied with Ernst & Young, sharing its New York corporate office with the accounting powerhouse.

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