Journalist and attorney Allison Hope Weiner is a special correspondent to Deadline and files this exclusive breaking news:
EXCLUSIVE: One of the last wild and wooly Hollywood litigation firms — big personalities, big cases, big drama, big media coverage — is going corporate. The firm of White O’Connor Fink & Brenner with its major entertainment clients and its “We Script Better Endings” slogan is merging with the NYC white-shoe powerhouse of Kelley Drye & Warren. The LA firm’s founding partners, Andrew White and Michael O’Connor, were schooled in the historic Wyman Bautzer ways until the firm imploded in 1988. The pair were part of the group that formed Christiansen White Miller Fink & Jacobs. Then White and O’Connor left the Christensen firm in 1996 over conflicts with name partners including Terry Christensen, who of course went on to Hollywood legal ignominy. (Christensen is currently appealing his Pellicano scandal conviction for conspiracy and wiretapping.) White and O’Connor went on to build a lucrative litigation practice and currently represent ABC, CBS, Warner Bros Pictures, New Line, and Paramount.
White O’Connor recently won at trial representing New Line and Warner Bros in a profit participation lawsuit brought by Larry Kasanoff over the film Mortal Kombat. The firm now has a costs bill against Kasanoff for over $100,000. It also recently won a high profile appellate decision for CBS in a defamation/false light privacy lawsuit brought by a husband and wife over a draft script for CSI that upheld the California Anti-SLAPP statute. And, they won for New Line in a case brought by screenwriter Sheri Gilbert who unsuccessfully alleged numerous copyright and RICO claims against the studio and Jane Fonda, Jennifer Lopez, Wanda Sykes, and others over the film Monster-In-Law. White O’Connor obtained a $900,000 award in attorneys fees and costs against Gilbert. White O’Connor also recently won in federal court for Southern District of New York a summary judgment for defendants Steven Spielberg and Paramount against copyright claims that their movie Disturbia infringed the copyright on the story which served as the basis for Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window.
It was these wins as well as numerous other victories for entertainment clients both in and out of court that clearly drew the attention of Kelley Drye & Warren, which wants to expand its national presence by merging. The new office will open as Kelley Drye/White O’Connor.
In my opinion, this is yet another sign of how the Hollywood legal landscape is changing. Studio and network general counsels are increasingly choosing name brands, i.e. the big and established firms to handle outside litigation rather than the small boutiques with one or two famous partners. If the case ends up a loser, it’s hard to blame the general counsel for going with a known quantity. And there’s more ground cover for those conflicts of interest and questionable practices that are status quo in Hollywood.
As for White O’Connor, the advantages are obvious: its smaller size made it difficult to take on the really big legal cases that require massive manpower. Kelley, Drye and Warren boast 350 attorneys, domestic offices in New York, Washington DC, Chicago, Connecticut, and New Jersey, an enormous international presence including a relationship with a firm in Mumbai, India, and a history of 175 years.
White O’Connor, in turn, gives Kelley Drye a Los Angeles office as well as added expertise in First Amendment, anti-trust, and intellectual property law, plus knowledge of the entertainment lay of the land.
I expect this newest merger to prompt other boutique entertainment litigation firms to start looking for big national and international firms to raise their status. But I’m also sad because we may soon be seeing the last of those wonderfully outsized personalities who defined Hollywood law for decades.