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ATLANTA-Rosemarie Thurston, the founder and head of Morris Manning & Martin’s securities team specializing in real estate investment trust transactions, and Hugh O’Beirne, a newcomer at the 29-year-old, 166-lawyer MMM, have left the firm together to join Downtown rival Alston & Bird, a 112-year-old, 651-lawyer group.

Alston & Bird officials recruited the pair, a company representative tells GlobeSt.com. Terms of their contracts were not disclosed. Thurston joins A&B as a partner; O’Beirne as an associate. Thurston was at MMM for eight years. She founded the REIT securities practice group in 2002. O’Beirne was with MMM since March.

In a prepared statement, Thurston says she “joined A&B in order to provide the depth and breadth of services that a 651-lawyer firm comprised of world-class experts in all areas of service required to support a growing practice representing REITS and real estate companies requires.” O’Beirne adds, “I think Rosemarie will lead this practice to the top of the real estate securities legal services market.”

A&B managing partner Ben F. Johnson III calls Thurston “a recognized leader in this industry who brings significant experience with the complexities of REITs and real estate funds.” Johnson says the addition of Thurston to his staff “fulfills a strategic objective of our firm–to strengthen our position as one of the most sophisticated REIT securities and corporate practices in the country.”

In her last three years at Morris Manning & Martin, Johnson says Thurston served as issuer’s counsel in real estate securities offerings totaling over $4 billion. She is a member of the Associate Board of Governors of NAREIT and the chair of the Legal and Regulatory Affairs Committee of the Investment Program Associate.

Thurston was an associate at locally based King & Spalding from 1989 to 1992. She joined Branch, Pike Ganz & O’Callaghan in 1992. The firm later merged into Holland & Knight where Thurston became a partner. MMM recruited her in April 1997.

Prior to joining MMM, O’Beirne worked as an associate at Sidley Austin Brown & Wood’s New York office from 2000 to 2004. He concentrates his practice on REITs, real estate funds, securities, corporate governance and mergers and acquisitions. He received his JD from Vanderbilt University School of Law; an MA from Boston College; and a BA from Merrimack College at North Andover, MA.

Robert E. Saudek, managing partner and a real estate specialist at Morris Manning, tells GlobeSt.com the loss of Thurston and O’Beirne is not expected to affect the operations of his firm’s real estate capital markets group.

“As you may know, Alston & Bird lost its Real Estate Capital Markets group to DLA Piper Rudnick a couple of months ago,” Saudek says. “Morris Manning & Martin has an exceptional RECM practice, having handled over $7 billion of public and private offerings in the last three years, and is part of our public and private securities department which has handled more IPOs and venture capital transactions than any law firm in the Southeast over the past six years.”

Saudek says his firm’s RECM group also “works closely with our 50-lawyer commercial real estate department, which is one of the firm’s great strengths.” That alone would make MMM “the likely target from which Alston & Bird would try to create an RECM practice after the departure of its group to DLA Piper Rudnick.”

Saudek tells GlobeSt.com Alston & Bird “made very strong offers to eight of MMM’s 11-person RECM group, including one of several RECM partners, Rosemarie Thurston. Despite all of these lucrative offers by Alston & Bird to our RECM group, we were very pleased that only one of our lawyers [a brand new associate] elected to follow Ms. Thurston to Alston & Bird. The vast majority stayed at MMM.”

Despite the departure of Thurston and O’Beirne, MMMs RECM group, “which has great depth and experience, has remained in tact and is healthier than ever,” Saudek says. “We are pleased that we continue to represent all of the real estate capital markets clients that we represented prior to Ms. Thurston’s departure.”

Alston & Bird has a total staff of 854 employees comprised of 289 partners, 299 associates, 49 of counsel and seven senior counsel. Morris Manning & Martin has a total staff of 360 that includes 73 partners and 93 associates and of counsel.

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