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Attorneys leaving Bingham to form new firm

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Seven attorneys are leaving Indianapolis firm Bingham McHale to form a new insurance litigation firm, a move that one of the departing partners said came as a result of high rates and the large firm's practice group effectively pricing itself out of the market.

An announcement about the Bingham exodus came Tuesday, with those involved describing it as an amicable split that boils down to those attorneys preferring a smaller setting to that of a big Indianapolis firm where overhead costs are higher. Bingham is ranked as the city's fifth largest firm.

On March 1, the group of 17 partners, attorneys, paralegals, and support staff, will form their own firm of Cantrell Strenski & Mehringer - taking the name of longtime Bingham partners Dennis Cantrell and Jim Strenski, as well as of counsel Susan Mehringer who joined the firm in 2007. Of counsel Barbara Jones will also be a partner at the new firm, and attorneys Tara Stapleton Lutes, Anna Muehling Mallon, and Catherine Haines will be associates. Three paralegals and a handful of support staff are leaving, also.

All have been a part of Bingham's insurance litigation practice group, representing insurance companies in coverage and bad-faith litigation as well as defending insureds in third-party litigation. They'll take about 90 percent of their clients, and the new firm will sublease space from Bingham on the 24th floor of the Market Tower Building.

Strenski, who's been at the firm since his summer associate work in 1993, said they've had discussions with Bingham leaders since the second half of 2008. This is an amicable split and no one asked or forced them to leave, he said. Over the years as Bingham has grown, the overhead costs have increased and that's put pressure on partners and attorneys to raise clients' rates, Strenski said.

"In this group, we were at the point where we had some of the highest rates in the city and state and had started to turn down work," he said. "We were pricing ourselves out of the market."

Strenski said the move is difficult, especially for those who've been there longest.

"We're very excited, but it's bittersweet. This law firm is where I was born and raised as an attorney, and it's sad," he said.

Bingham managing partner Tobin McClamroch said this was an amicable split and described it as a good decision on the attorneys' parts, saying law firm leadership respected the attorneys' decision. But he acknowledged it will hurt Bingham because the attorneys are taking most of their individual clients and this will leave the larger firm with a smaller business litigation practice.

"These are very fine lawyers, and whenever you lose people of that quality, it's tough to call this a positive," he said. "It's difficult to categorize the difference we'll see at Bingham, but these attorneys represented the most significant amount of insurance work we had."

The firm will continue representing business clients, including environmental, transactions, litigation, and other miscellaneous insurance work, McClamroch said. He also said this change isn't leading up to anything larger happening at the firm; McClamroch said Bingham isn't planning or gearing up for any merger or acquisition.

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