The live-streamed US libel trial of actor Johnny Depp against his ex-wife Amber Heard dominated the internet for just over a month. But the fervent Google searches also threw his law firm, Brown Rudnick, into the blazing spotlight.
Now the 146th largest law firm in the US by revenue is capitalising on its new-found online fame by plotting a London expansion.
“London is really the real focal point for our international expansion. Growing the office there, organically and through lateral hires, is our focus,” the firm’s new chief executive Vincent Guglielmotti tells Financial News.
Brown Rudnick is the 39th largest US law firm in London and Guglielmotti says he is keen to see the firm expand under his leadership with financial hubs London and New York identified as key to his growth plans.
He brushes off worries about the impact of Brexit and competition from rival financial hubs on London’s competitiveness.
“Our experience has proven that London continues to be a financial powerhouse. We’ve seen increases in tech and life sciences clients and the capital markets are still strong, so I have no concerns about continuing to expand in London,” he says.
The firm has a headcount of around 100 in its London office out of a total of nearly 500 for the firm.
Recent hires for Brown Rudnick in London include former Baker Botts and Linklaters energy partner James Douglass, who joined the firm in July. In January, sanctions and compliance partner Jeffrey Cottle joined from Norton Rose Fulbright.
Depp’s messy court battle with Heard was closely watched by thousands across social media platforms such as Twitch, TikTok and YouTube.
A jury found in favour of Depp on 1 June on three counts of defamation against his former wife, who had accused him of being a domestic abuser. Heard prevailed in one defamation claim. Both Depp and Heard are appealing elements of the decision.
The trial was a social media sensation, as viewers pored over every detail from the litigants’ clothes and hairstyles, to what they were drinking in the courtroom.
That scrutiny extended to Depp’s nine-strong legal team from Brown Rudnick, with the real-time attention on the case triggering a surge in search engine queries about the firm and its lawyers.
“I don’t think anyone could have predicted the cultural impact it’s had and how widespread the case was followed,” the firm’s new chief executive Vincent Guglielmotti tells Financial News.
Google searches for topics such as ‘Brown Rudnick’ and ‘Johnny Depp legal team’ — as well as individual lawyers on the team such as Ben Chew and Camille Vasquez — soared during the trial, according to Google trends data.
Google Trends data showed searches for Brown Rudnick peaked between 4 and 10 June following the conclusion of the US trial.
“Brown Rudnick” “Depp legal team” “Camille Vasquez lawyer” and “Brown Rudnick Johnny Depp” were all categorised as “breakout” searches on Google Trends.
This means they were terms which had seen a “tremendous increase in search frequency,” according to Google Trends, indicating the degree to which the Depp case shot the firm and its lawyers into the public eye.
With the firm planning expansion in London — its largest office outside the US — Guglielmotti says he hopes the visibility of the firm’s lawyers during the trial will showcase its offer to potential recruits.
Overall, the firm is aiming to grow revenue to more than $300m from $230m now, and boost lawyer headcount to around 300 from 250 on the new CEO’s watch.
Guglielmotti — a former college baseball player — says expanding the firm is his big focus for his tenure as CEO.
“My efforts right now are focused on making sure the firm moves forward, and beyond that, making sure I show up at my kid’s sporting events,” he says.
Guglielmotti hopes he can attract rising stars to help fuel that expansion.
“I’m happy that we’ve gotten the coverage and the way that we’ve gotten it, because it’s allowed people to see that we are a great firm for young, ambitious talent,” he says.
Brown Rudnick promoted 38-year-old Vasquez to partner in July to recognise her success in the case.
“We saw a great performance, she was already up for partner… so why wait? When you see such great results they should be rewarded,” Guglielmotti says.
The firm’s CEO says those following the trial online got to see what her colleagues at Brown Rudnick already knew about Vasquez.
“She’s collaborative, she’s hard-working, she’s very intelligent and she did a great job under very difficult circumstances,” Guglielmotti says of the firm’s newest partner.
“It was a tough case, it was on TV, so we were all very proud of her performance and proud of all the prep work that she put in,” he adds.
“It’s great to see hard work get rewarded,” he says. “She put in the time and performed when it was time to perform.”
The publicity for the firm has also translated to more applications from juniors, with Guglielmotti saying he has seen a “noticeable uptick in associate interest at the firm”.
Brown Rudnick declined to provide any more precise numbers.
“I hope it is because the talent sees that we are a firm where hard work is rewarded and opportunities abound, so we’re very happy to get the résumés in,” Guglielmotti says.
Guglielmotti, 41, a New York tax partner, says his own election as Brown Rudnick’s youngest-ever chief executive in June is emblematic of the firm’s approach to backing younger lawyers.
“Hard work is rewarded and there are no artificial barriers. If there were, I wouldn’t be here,” he says.
To contact the author of this story with feedback or news, email James Booth