2021 legal roundup: LeClairRyan, Matson, Hild dominated headlines

LeClairRyan bankruptcy topped Richmond legal cases in 2021

LeClairRyan’s padlocked former Richmond office. (BizSense file photos)

Much of the news out of the Richmond legal scene in 2021 led back to LeClairRyan, in more ways than one.

The collapsed local law firm’s complex bankruptcy case continued to play out, with the proceedings now going into their third year.

The case came to a head during 2021, as trustee Lynn Tavenner battled to claw back cash from many of the firm’s former leaders and shareholders. They included co-founder and namesake Gary LeClair, who was sued by Tavenner along with legal services giant UnitedLex for millions of dollars. LeClair and others ultimately settled with the estate by tapping into a $10 million insurance policy. UnitedLex and Tavenner are still locking horns and headed for a trial in the spring.

LCR’s contentious liquidation was overshadowed at times during the year by the legal troubles of Bruce Matson, the firm’s longtime chief legal officer and one of its most seasoned attorneys.

Matson is now serving a nearly four-year federal prison sentence, in a fall from grace caused by his theft of millions of dollars from bankruptcy estates he had overseen as trustee dating back to 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 on charges of masterminding an accounting scheme that toppled his once-fast-growing Chesterfield-based mortgage company Live Well Financial.

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

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

Firms making moves

The year began with a changing of the guard at ThompsonMcMullan. The Shockoe Slip law firm announced that longtime president Chris Malone was stepping down from that role and would be succeeded by Billy Tunner. Malone, who joined the firm in 1981 and had served as president for 20 years, continues on with his law practice at the firm.

Two out-of-town law firms made their Richmond debuts during 2021. Holland & Knight, a Florida-based law giant with more than 1,000 attorneys and dozens of offices globally, opened its first Richmond outpost in the Williams Mullen building. Then came Thomas, Thomas & Hafer, an 85-attorney firm headquartered in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. It opened its first local office in Midlothian, marking its 12th office overall and second in Virginia.

One locally-based firm was in expansion mode as well. KaneJeffries, a 10-person firm focused mainly 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 its longtime West End outpost.

One of the planes on Nordic Aviation Capital’s website. The airplane leasing giant is seeking bankruptcy protection in Richmond.

Big bankruptcies land in Richmond

Many of Richmond’s high-level corporate bankruptcy attorneys continued to feast in 2021, landing work on the continuous parade of large out-of-town corporations that duck for bankruptcy cover in Richmond’s federal court.

At least three large cases were filed here during the year, adding others over the last two years. The latest landed just before Christmas, with debt-laden airplane leasing company Nordic Aviation Capital falling into Chapter 11 protection.

And as has been the case for the last 13 years, 2021 ended with the liquidation of Circuit City still technically alive in Richmond, although the case is finally expected to conclude any day.

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