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Firm Mourns Death Of Bill Urquhart – Name Partner And Visionary Who Drove Growth

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Urquhart, 72, known for recruitment skills, business vision as well as litigation prowess

LOS ANGELES – A. William Urquhart – whose vision, bonhomie and flair for recruiting fueled the growth of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, LLP from a fifteen-lawyer firm into a global litigation juggernaut – has passed away, the firm announced today.

As a lawyer, Urquhart battled for clients in complex business disputes ranging from international arbitrations and patent disputes to class actions; he earned a reputation as a brilliant negotiator. His talents earned him multiple plaudits, including being named “One of California's Most Successful Business Lawyers” multiple times by California Law Business, “One of the Most Influential Attorneys in California” by the Los Angeles Daily Journal, and one of the “Outstanding Trial Lawyers of America” by Chambers USA

Yet Urquhart also brought a tremendous warmth and sense of fun to the firm, colleagues said. Whether wearing his trademark Hawaiian shirt or conducting a job interview in a track suit, he had an uncanny ability to connect with people and persuaded hundreds of law students and law clerks and countless lateral partners to join the firm. Urquhart, 72, died Friday evening from complications stemming from a bone marrow transplant, the firm said.

“The word visionary is used a lot. Bill really was a visionary,” said firm founder John B. Quinn. “The idea that a small firm in Los Angeles could become the largest litigation firm in the world—that was Bill’s. That vision could not have been accomplished without his skills with people—his judgment, his affability, and his caring.” 

“No one was better at sizing up a problem and getting right to the heart of it. No one was better at sizing up a person and immediately understanding what made them tick. Bill could do that because of his uncanny empathy with everyone he met,” Quinn added. 

A native of Massapequa, N.Y., Urquhart went to Fordham University on a track scholarship and then attended Fordham’s School of Law at night. After graduating, he became an associate at New York City’s Cravath, Swaine & Moore, where he met fellow associate Quinn. Then, in 1988, after practicing in New York for a decade, he joined the firm that soon became Quinn Emanuel & Urquhart.

Thirty-one years later, Urquhart leaves behind a firm of over 800 lawyers in 23 offices spread across four continents.

Quinn described Urquhart as “indisputably the driver of” the firm’s transformation and international growth.

Urquhart put the firm on the world stage by winning Nokia as a client in a high-stakes intellectual property dispute with Qualcomm, colleagues recalled. Proving how much even his adversaries admired his skills, Urquhart was later hired to represent Qualcomm in its extensive intellectual property litigation against Apple, which concluded just this year. 

Kathleen M. Sullivan, whom Urquhart personally recruited from her post as Dean of Stanford Law School to create Quinn Emanuel’s appellate practice, said that he “foresaw that a small LA-based litigation boutique could become a global litigation force.”

“He willed that vision into reality through his unparalleled genius at persuading partner after partner to join the firm and client after client to entrust their most difficult disputes to us,” Sullivan said. 

“Bill also had remarkable legal insight and a gift for seeing around corners to spot the next legal trend. He ensured that we handled the world’s largest patent disputes and most significant financial litigation,” Sullivan added.

Urquhart’s numerous clients included IBM, Hughes Aircraft, Johnson Controls, CNA, Nokia and Qualcomm, among many others. For years he represented IBM in numerous matters, including multiple nationwide class actions. 

He argued and won a rare emergency appeal in the Ninth Circuit in a dispute arising out of the California electricity crisis in 2001. More recently, he represented DP World in various matters, including in connection with a trial in the Dubai International Financial Court, where he obtained dismissal of a contract dispute regarding the operation of a port in Egypt. 

He also represented Freedom Wireless in a patent infringement lawsuit against most of the largest cellular telephone carriers, securing hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements and ultimately obtaining what was at the time the largest damages award from a jury in Massachusetts. 

“My dear friend Bill has passed on, and there is a vacancy in the world that can’t be filled,” said longtime client and friend Don Rosenberg, General Counsel of Qualcomm. “I will cherish the memories of our travels together, the joys and pains we shared, and a friendship that grew stronger and stronger over the years. A brilliant strategist, a fierce advocate, an enabler of conflict resolution: That was Bill. And so much more. Devoted husband, father, and grandfather; loyal and generous friend; champion of fairness and justice. Those of us who had the good fortune of touching and being touched by Bill have had our lives enriched and our souls blessed.”

Urquhart’s family requests donations to the Fordham School of Law’s Evening Division. Donations can be made at law.fordham.edu/BillUrquhart. Memorial service plans are pending.