Photo of Tom O’Brien, Maribeth Annaguey and Dennis Ellis by Amy Cantrell.
Browne George Ross has made the seemingly retro move of adding three new name partners – Tom O’Brien, Maribeth Annaguey and Dennis Ellis – to become Browne George Ross O’Brien Annaguey & Ellis.
Firm leader Eric George sees the issue as a look ahead, rather than to the past. “Maribeth, Dennis and Tom have the gifts that define an extraordinary lawyer – excellence, integrity, scholarship, common sense, creativity, grit. Clients love them, and the bench and bar respects them. It’s time for our letterhead to reflect their current and future leadership of the firm,” he said.
Browne George has long been considered one of L.A.’s hottest litigation firms – and it’s just getting hotter. Helmed by the well-known and much-admired George alongside celebrated trial lawyer Pete Ross, the firm has amassed an enviable track record in courts nationwide. In the last year alone, the firm’s stable of trial work has been second to none – ranging from defending the City of L.A.’s Water and Power Department in high profile litigation, to taking on Senator Richard Burr for insider stock trades at the onset of Covid, to representing Nicki Minaj in copyright litigation, to procuring $15 million in judgments against now-disgraced attorney Michael Avenatti.
That’s no accident. While Los Angeles’ historic market-leading firms clambered to become international contenders, they forfeited some of the very attributes that drew top lawyers to them in the first place. “We’ve focused exclusively on top litigation matters, and on building a firm that wants to win for their clients, not just bill them,” said managing partner Keith Wesley.
Annaguey, O’Brien and Ellis are BigLaw veterans who have become major players in Southern California.
Annaguey was the first to join, in 2017, after building a successful client base over nearly nine years as a partner at Liner Law. As Liner was acquired by DLA, one of the world’s largest firms, Annaguey assessed what type of practice would best serve her clients – and someone suggested she reconnect with George. “I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it myself,” she said, having watched as George built a “very sophisticated, high-stakes, high-profile practice.”
O’Brien followed less than a year later. After serving as U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California, O’Brien spent nine years as a partner at Paul Hastings, where he headed the West Coast white-collar practice as well as the Los Angeles litigation department. He met the connected George while doing the rounds to become the region’s top federal prosecutor in 2007, “and I just fell in love with the guy immediately,” he said. George beat the drum on O’Brien joining, and “a couple of years ago, I thought, ‘Let’s go ahead and try this.’ And it’s been fantastic. Maybe not for Eric, but for me.” “It’s been a real breath of fresh air for me in practice,” he added. “I’m going to say what Maribeth said, which is so key on the practice of law. You can do it in a gentlemanly and a gentlewomanly manner.”
Ellis’ journey to Browne George’s door began – as it seems all roads do – with dinner at Dan Tana’s with George. “And I quickly transitioned into asking Eric what he thought of the judicial appointment secretary [and now a San Diego Superior Court judge] Sharon Majors-Lewis,” said Ellis. “And he says, ‘Oh, I love her. She’s great. She’s very thoughtful in her approach and everything else.’ And I said, ‘Good answer, because that’s my mother.’”
There was no going back. Over a decade of friendship, George watched Ellis score one victory after another as a trial lawyer. “Simply put,” said George of Ellis, “I have never met a better trial lawyer.” The two found themselves talking on a weekly basis about law and strategy in their cases – the two refer to the other as his “best friend in the law” – when George confronted Ellis about his legacy, asking him what more he wanted after an extraordinary career in which Ellis had risen through the ranks to become global chair of complex litigation and arbitration at Paul Hastings. It was only a matter of time before the answer to George’s “Wouldn’t it be great to work together?” became “Yes.”
Asked for his reaction to his name being added to the firm’s, Ellis offered: “I think it shows dramatically that you can find good quality lawyers, deserving lawyers and build diversity in a law firm, in a practice and have a firm that matches the mosaic of our country, our society and in particular the area where we practice in Los Angeles.” He added: It is not lost on me the time in which this is happening and I do believe that it shows that in all of the situations that are going on that there still are some positive things taking place and that some firms, some corporations and some companies realize the important role that people of color play in our society and how they can affect not only society generally, but individual companies as they strive to meet the needs of a diverse marketplace.”
That’s been a huge selling point for the numerous top-tier lawyers who have chosen to switch rather than fight the current era of BigLaw. All three newly-named partners remember watching at the beginning of the pandemic as BigLaw almost in unison began to defer compensation and lay off staff. “And we were sitting around here saying, ‘Wow. No one wants to wish anything like that on anyone,’” said O’Brien. “But that’s how they have to react because it’s about balance sheets now.”
Meanwhile, they looked around Browne George and saw they were busy and getting busier. “There’s a brotherhood-sisterhood camaraderie feeling. I certainly feel it at this firm, that these people have your back,” said O’Brien.
At the end of the day, Ellis said, we are “nothing if we don’t achieve for our clients – and achieve in an exceptional way.” Ellis recalled the joy he felt as a young lawyer, with the circulation of kudos memos after notching a litigation win. “They always ended, ‘Needless to say, the client is ecstatic.’”
“I’ve never lost that sense of satisfaction. That’s what this is all about,” said Ellis.
“I believe we’re building a juggernaut,” concluded O’Brien, “that is going to be absolutely head to toe competitive with every single law firm in Los Angeles, California, and across the country.”