By Cara DeGette, LAW WEEK COLORADO
DENVER — The past week has been a nonstop roller-coaster ride for Willie Shepherd – or at least for observers watching the careening of the Willie Shepherd Express. In less than five business days, the partner of Kamlet Shepherd & Reichert shocked Colorado’s legal community, first with the announcement Tuesday he was leaving the firm he founded nine years ago.
The following day, Perkins Coie announced, with great fanfare, plans to bring Shepherd – a top fundraiser for the Democratic National Convention last year and whose name subsequently made the short list as a potential contender as Colorado’s next U.S. Attorney – on board as a partner.
On Wednesday, sitting at a conference table next to Perkins Coie Managing Partner Robert Miller and talking about his future with his new firm, Shepherd already looked at home.
“I hope to be moving boxes over and be sitting here on Monday,” he said.
Less than two days later, at 9:43 Friday night, Perkins Coie issued a terse paragraph-long statement indicating that Shepherd, who is facing a grievance filed with Colorado’s Office of Attorney Regulation, won’t be moving in after all.
According to the announcement: “Perkins Coie and Willie E. Shepherd will not proceed with the previously announced agreement for Mr. Shepherd to join the firm. The Perkins Coie offer was subject to a number of conditions, some of which could not be satisfied. As a result Perkins Coie and Mr. Shepherd have agreed to terminate discussions and thus allow Mr. Shepherd to immediately pursue other opportunities.”
The picture is a far cry from the excitement that Shepherd, along with Miller, expressed during a joint interview with Law Week Colorado two days earlier – shortly after the Seattle-based law firm announced Shepherd was the third partner it had brought on board this year.
In the Wednesday interview at Perkins’ lower downtown office, both Shepherd and Miller described their impending partnership.
“We’ve known each other for 20 years, and we’ve sort of stayed in touch, and a few weeks ago Willie mentioned he might be interested [and] away we went and led us to where we are today,” said Miller, himself a former U.S. Attorney for Colorado, appointed under the Reagan administration.
Added Shepherd, 42, who worked with Miller at Patton Boggs shortly after he moved to Colorado in 1992: “Bob and I would always see each other on the [16th Street] shuttle and always jokingly talked about working together again.
“I have been giving a lot of thought to this economy and the platform of Perkins Coie – you know this is an amazing international law firm with more than 700 lawyers with a reach into China and a significant emphasis on energy and environment, which is my primary area of practice,” said Shepherd.
Coupled with the strong focus on new energy technology in Colorado and the Western United States and internationally, it “just made a lot of sense for me to explore the opportunity of coming in and working and being a partner here,” he said.
“Were delighted,” said Miller. “We’ve known Willie and his reputation and his skills and jumped at the opportunity.”
During the interview, an upbeat Shepherd said he was eager to focus full time on energy and environmental law, with a likelihood of “dabbling a bit in political law.” Perkins Coie’s Washington, D.C., office has a strong political law practice, and one of its partners is personal counsel to President Barack Obama.
The nature of the grievance
Shepherd, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Tulane University and one of the few African-American partners of a Colorado firm, described his departure from the firm he founded as his decision.
“As much as I love the firm I helped breathe life into — and I wish them nothing but continued success – I find myself in the position of wanting to work on more nationalized clients and needing a larger platform and, particularly in these economic times having the ability to work [with] such larger clients from this type of a platform just really works well for me and my family.” Shepherd and his wife are expecting their third child in July.
In a news release issued early in the week, Jay Kamlet spoke glowingly of his departing partner.
“Our goal nine years ago was to create a pre-eminent law firm that provides high-quality, cost-effective services while at the same time making community service a priority,” Kamlet said. “Taking stock today, we have succeeded and have assembled a top-notch team of legal talent that will continue to embody the founding principles for years to come.”
Looking toward to the future
On Wednesday, Shepherd declined to discuss the nature of the grievance against him – and whether it had anything to do with his departure from Kamlet Shepherd.
“I can’t talk about it,” Shepherd said, in response to both questions.
Rather Shepherd, who sits on the boards of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, said he is looking forward to turning his focus to the practice of law, and away from the administrative duties that accompany the realities of being a partner at a mid-sized law firm.
Since last year, the firm that Shepherd helped found has, like many others, experienced layoffs. In January, Kamlet Shepherd reported 45 attorneys working with the firm – there are currently 33 attorneys listed on its Website.
Shepherd said he wishes his old firm nothing but the best, “but I don’t want to talk so much about the past than the present or the future, and the future to me is the opportunity of a firm like Perkins Coie.”
Meanwhile, Shepherd’s former law firm announced that as of June 1, its new name will be Kamlet Reichert, LLP.
Last week, more than a dozen attorneys who have left Kamlet Shepherd & Reichert since last September either did not return phone calls seeking comment over Shepherd’s departure, or declined to comment for the record.
Distributed by Colorado Capitol Reporters
Updated formatting March 29 at 2:37 p.m.