Dealmaker Joseph Calabrese Talks Move to Latham & Watkins: "It'll Be A Build"

The entertainment lawyer tells THR what's next for the top firm's growing Los Angeles presence
Courtesy of Latham & Watkins
Joseph Calabrese

It’s not every day that a group of top Hollywood attorneys defect from one Los Angeles legal giant to another. When top dealmakers Joseph Calabrese and Christopher Brearton made the leap earlier this month from O’Melveny & Myers to rival Latham & Watkins with four partners in tow, it wasn’t just an upset — it was a shift in the power dynamic of L.A. entertainment law. Latham, one of L.A.'s biggest and most powerful firms, curiously has never had much of a showbiz presence. But now, with a new Century City office opened directly across the street from O’Melveny, it aims to replicate its rival's traditional strength in entertainment clients.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Calabrese, the group's leader and one of the industry's most experienced big-deal advisors, says he's not done building up the new firm. There will be more additions in the coming couple weeks, he says, and he expects many clients — his group has repped big institutions like Legendary and Participant Media and closed billions of dollars in entertainment transactions at his old firm — to join him at the new firm. Here's an edited transcript of his conversation with THR...

What clients will you bring to Latham with you?

Calabrese: We fully expect the majority of our clients to make the move with us. Our clients have been tremendously supportive of the move, and they’ve all acknowledged with varying degrees what a good platform Latham will be to service their needs.

I don’t want to frontrun any particular clients, as all are in the process of evaluating that transition, and I don’t want to talk about something that hasn’t formally happened before it’s done. I’d rather stay away from any specific client references, but I think it’s safe to say the vast majority have indicated their willingness to move.

Are there any clients who’ve said they will not move with you to Latham?
None of them have specifically stated they won’t be moving over. None of our clients have reacted in a negative fashion to move, though some are balancing how best to efficiently transition the work they’d like to do.

How will your role change at your new firm?
I think that my role at Latham will change in that since it’s a much bigger firm, my role will involve much more so how best to maximize the practice opportunities for our group. With 32 offices and more than 2100 attorneys, I’ll have my hands full just spotting opportunities and looking for ways to optimize.

What's next for Latham's expansion of its L.A. entertainment law presence?
I think that Latham’s decision that after 75 years they want to be a part of our hometown industry is an incredibly positive sign for Los Angeles and for the entertainment, sports and media space. It has a very positive track record at whatever industry it focuses on. That’s what's exciting.

Why did you decide to leave O'Melveny?
I think the answer to that really has to do with the strength of the transactions platform at Latham, their demonstrated record of success of focusing on an industry sector and making it more than the sum of its parts on its platform. Latham has made a persistent and incredibly compelling case. Many have been persistent, but Latham was very compelling when they talked to us about their various geographies and practices.

I really think this is a home run for our group. This is about the group we’re bringing over—somewhere between 15 and 20 lawyers in total. We feel very positive about the whole group. There’s a few people who joined last week, I would expect another five or so this week, and another few next week. Not everyone’s joining at the same time. It’ll be a build, but our main focus here is our clients, and we want to make sure we have the best platform for them.

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