Stamas leaving Piper Top lawyer to open Wilmer, Cutler office

Legal affairs

March 27, 1996|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,SUN STAFF

In a move that involves elite law firms and one of the city's top lawyers, Baltimore attorney George P. Stamas said yesterday that he is leaving Piper & Marbury after 17 years to launch a local office of the venerable Washington law firm of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering.

Mr. Stamas, 45, widely seen as among the city's most successful corporate lawyers, will become senior partner in Wilmer's Baltimore office, leading a group of about eight lawyers here. Other partners will be John B. Watkins V, who worked with Mr. Stamas at Piper, and Bryan Slone, a tax lawyer already at Wilmer.

The Baltimore office will be Wilmer's fourth outside Washington -- and first satellite office within the United States. Others are in Berlin, London and Brussels, Belgium.

Mr. Stamas said that he regretted leaving friends at Piper but the chance to join Wilmer and benefit from its experience around the world was "just too tempting."

"It wasn't a question of black or white," he said. "Piper is a firm that flourishes and will continue to. I felt Wilmer's global reach complements what I already do. It adds another dimension."

In losing Mr. Stamas, a mergers and acquisitions specialist, Piper will be without the lawyer responsible for structuring a number of the more prominent business deals involving Baltimore investors.

In 1993, Mr. Stamas helped one of his clients, Baltimore lawyer Peter G. Angelos, close the deal to purchase the Baltimore Orioles. Mr. Stamas is an investor in the baseball team and its general counsel.

More recently, Mr. Stamas represented Stephen A. Geppi, an Orioles investor and chairman of Diamond Comic Distributors, in Mr. Geppi's acquisition of Baltimore Magazine.

Closing those and other deals has earned Mr. Stamas a reputation as one of the city's shrewdest deal makers, a top rainmaker with a touch for bringing large fees to his law firm.

Last year, he was listed by the American Lawyer as one of 45 leading lawyers under the age of 45. Mr. Stamas was the only Baltimore attorney named in the national survey.

Frank Burch, Piper's chairman, said he did not expect losing Mr. Stamas to result in any "negative financial impact" for the law firm.

Mr. Burch said Piper had its best year in 1995 and expects a more successful year in 1996, even without Mr. Stamas.

"You hate to see a person with George's energy and talent come to the conclusion that it is time to do something else," Mr. Burch said. "But that's what he's decided, so that's OK."

Mr. Stamas' departure apparently has been in the works for weeks, if not months.

He said it began in conversations with friends at Wilmer, slowly developing to a point several weeks ago when a deal seemed possible. "It seemed very right from the first moment," Mr. Stamas said. "What happened then was 95 percent soul-searching and 5 percent confirming my views of Wilmer, Cutler and the individuals there."

Michael S. Helfer, a partner at Wilmer, said the law firm's interest in Mr. Stamas was natural. "George is a world-class corporate lawyer," Mr. Helfer said. "He is someone with a great combination of energy and business acumen." Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, founded in 1962, is a diverse law firm, handling a range of areas from litigation to antitrust to corporate transactions. Two members of the law firm, including one of the founding partners, Lloyd N. Cutler, have been counsel to U.S. presidents.

Wilmer joins a number of out-of-town firms that have opened satellite offices in Baltimore, including Hogan & Hartson, and Patton, Boggs & Blow, both from Washington; and Ballard, Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll, which is based in Philadelphia.

Many local law firms have suffered in recent years, hit hard by a wave of bank mergers and corporate downsizing that has chipped away at legal business. Wilmer's entry into Baltimore is a signal that trend might be reversing, said Anne Neal, a legal recruiter in Baltimore and Washington.

"It's a big deal, it certainly isn't something that happens every day," Ms. Neal said of the arrival of Wilmer, Cutler. "Wilmer is the kind of firm that would take a lot of care before going into something like this. It's a positive for Baltimore."

Mr. Stamas said, "Any time a firm of Wilmer's stature is willing to make this kind of move, it has be viewed as a vote of confidence for our legal and business communities."

Pub Date: 3/27/96

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