2021 legal rally: LeClairRyan, Matson and Hild topped the headlines

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LeClairRyan’s former office in Richmond padlocked. (BizSense File Photos)

Much of the news from the Richmond legal scene in 2021 brought LeClairRyan back, in more ways than one.

The complex bankruptcy case of the collapsed local law firm has continued, with proceedings now entering their third year.

The case came to a head in 2021, as trustee Lynn Tavenner struggled to recoup cash from many of the company’s former executives and shareholders. They included co-founder and namesake Gary LeClair, who was sued by Tavenner with legal services giant UnitedLex for millions of dollars. LeClair and others ultimately settled the estate with a $ 10 million insurance policy. UnitedLex and Tavenner are still in the process of locking the horns and heading for a trial in the spring.

The contentious liquidation of LCR has at times been overshadowed during the year by the legal woes of Bruce Matson, the firm’s longtime general counsel and one of its most senior lawyers.

Matson is now serving a nearly four-year federal prison sentence, disgraced by his theft of millions of dollars in bankruptcy assets he had overseen as a trustee since 2014.

Michael Hild was convicted of fraud.

Michael Hild and Live Well Financial

In another high-profile white-collar criminal case, Richmond businessman Michael Hild was convicted of organizing an accounting scheme that toppled his rapidly growing Chesterfield mortgage company, Live Well Financial.

As his three-week trial in Manhattan federal court ended after the jury deliberated for only a few hours, Hild remains free as he fights for an afterthought acquittal or a new trial, arguing that his lawyer was inefficient and conflicted.

Hild is also embroiled in the ongoing bankruptcy of Live Well in Delaware, where the trustee is vying to take control of Hild’s real estate assets in Richmond, in addition to suing for damages.

At Thomas’ new outpost in Richmond, Thomas and Hafer are attorneys Patrick O’Grady, left, and John Dunnigan.

Companies on the move

The year began with a changing of the guard at ThompsonMcMullan. Law firm Shockoe Slip has announced that longtime chairman Chris Malone is stepping down from this role and will be replaced by Billy Tunner. Malone, who joined the firm in 1981 and served as its chairman for 20 years, continues his legal practice with the firm.

Two out-of-town law firms debuted in Richmond in 2021. Holland & Knight, a Florida-based law giant with more than 1,000 attorneys and dozens of offices around the world, opened its Richmond’s first outpost in the Williams Mullen building. Then came Thomas, Thomas & Hafer, an 85-lawyer firm headquartered in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. She opened her first local office in Midlothian, marking her 12e office overall and second in Virginia.

A local business was also in expansion mode. KaneJeffries, a 10-person firm focused primarily on real estate work, acquired the practice of Sonny Hughes, a nearly four-decade veteran of the Richmond legal scene. The deal gave KaneJeffries a presence in Chesterfield County by taking over Hughes’ office, adding to his longtime West End outpost.

One of the planes on the Nordic Aviation Capital website. The aircraft rental giant is seeking bankruptcy protection in Richmond.

Big bankruptcies land in Richmond

Many of Richmond’s top corporate bankruptcy attorneys continued to feast on 2021, landing from work on the continued parade of large out-of-town companies hiding for bankruptcy in front of the Richmond Federal Court.

At least three major cases were filed here during the year, adding more in the past two years. The last one landed just before Christmas, with indebted aircraft leasing company Nordic Aviation Capital falling under Chapter 11 protection.

And as has been the case for the past 13 years, 2021 has ended with the liquidation of Circuit City still technically alive in Richmond, although the deal should finally be concluded overnight.


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