Feb. 20, 1947 – Oct. 4, 2019
A. William Urquhart, who helped transform Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan from a small Los Angeles firm into a global litigation powerhouse and, with his wife, Mary Urquhart, was also known for his generosity in supporting numerous charities, has died. Urquhart, known as Bill, died Oct. 4 from complications stemming from a bone marrow transplant. He was 72.
Over the years, Urquhart was named “one of California’s most successful business lawyers,” “one of the most influential attorneys in California” and one of the “outstanding trial lawyers of America” by various professional publications and organizations. Urquhart was ranked as a leading California litigator by Chambers USA every year since its first publication, and was called “exceptionally bright” (Chambers Global), a “forceful trial lawyer” who “commands a strong reputation in the litigation arena” (Chambers USA) and a “litigation celebrity” (Vault 100 Guide). Benchmark Plaintiff Litigation 2012 also recognized Urquhart as a “national intellectual property litigation star” and a “local litigation star” for California antitrust, class action, intellectual property and securities, and he also was selected as a Super Lawyer for more than 13 years.
Urquhart was born Feb. 20, 1947, and grew up in Massapequa, on New York’s Long Island. His father was an insurance adjuster; his mother was an assistant to the president of Hofstra University.
Starting in high school, he worked as a lifeguard at Jones Beach and ran track. Urquhart placed second in the mile in the Catholic School Championship and once ran a 4:26 mile in New York’s Madison Square Garden. His two-mile relay team was the second-fastest in the country. His speed earned him a track scholarship to Fordham University, where he studied political science and earned a bachelor’s degree in 1969.
He considered a career as a teacher and track coach. For several years, he taught at public schools in Harlem, New York, and on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. After concluding it would be hard to support a family on a teacher’s wage, he enrolled at Fordham’s law school, taking evening classes and working during the day at the law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges and later at Cravath, Swaine & Moore. As a junior lawyer at Cravath, he met Quinn, who also worked at the firm.
Urquhart later worked at Willkie Farr & Gallagher. From 1985-88, he was general counsel for the New York Insurance Exchange, a short-lived organization that tried to compete with the Lloyd’s of London insurance market before joining the then small firm, Quinn Emanuel.
John Quinn, who co-founded Quinn Emanuel in 1986, said Urquhart was “indisputably the driver” of the firm’s transformation and international growth. When Urquhart joined in 1988, the firm had about 15 lawyers. It now has more than 800 in 23 offices on four continents. The expansion was due in no small part to Urquhart’s business vision and litigation prowess. The American Lawyer ranks Quinn Emanuel No. 23 among U.S.-based law firms in revenue terms. In terms of profit per equity partner, it ranks fifth.
“The word ‘visionary’ is used a lot,” said founder John B. Quinn on his firm’s Facebook page. “Bill was really a visionary.”
Urquhart was as famous for his recruitment skills. He wore a Hawaiian shirt and flip-flops to interviews. When recruiting at Harvard, he rented a house, set up a margarita machine and a beer keg, and treated the process more like a party than an interview. He sealed one hire by sending the candidate a BlackBerry, a bottle of Cristal champagne and a set of Quinn Emanuel business cards bearing her name before she accepted his offer.
He was also famous for his selfless generosity and making the careers of those lucky enough to get Urquhart’s “midas” touch. One of his partners, Shon Morgan, recalled, “I was a young associate working with Bill on a case he had brought in for IBM. Bill said ‘this should be your client. I’ll get the next one.’ At that time IBM was the seventh-biggest company in the world. That provided the foundation for my own career and remains more than 20 years later the most generous professional gesture I have seen.”
Bill Urquhart met his wife, Mary, when she was preparing for the prestigious international culinary media conference where she was on a panel with Martha Stewart and Dian Thomas of the “Today” show. Mary owned a cheese company, Lorraine Cheese, at the time. The two had a whirlwind romance and were married within six months. They have been married for 32 years.
“He was kind to everyone,” Mary Urquhart said. “He was the most humble person I have ever known.”
In South Pasadena, the Urquharts were well-known for hosting fundraisers for numerous nonprofit organizations and political campaigns. They did so at their South Pasadena home, where they resided for more than 20 years. Their house, which was designed by famed Pasadena architects Marston and Van Pelt, was featured in the spring 2018 issue of The Quarterly, which is published by Gavilan Media. It was a Pasadena Symphony Showcase home in 1980.
Local organizations that have benefited from the Urquhart’s generosity include the Help Group and the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens. They also hosted events at their home for the Huntington Library Series, AbilityFirst, Planned Parenthood, Pasadena Art Alliance, Rotary Club of South Pasadena, the Boys & Girls Clubs, Music & Mansions, and Women Involved in South Pasadena Political Activism (WISPPA).
The native New Yorker thrived in Southern California. He cheered for the Lakers and Dodgers and dressed for the beach even when at the office. “He was always the least formal person in the room,” Mary said. He also tended to be the center of attention.
Bill is survived by his wife, Mary, and six children: Edward, Alison, Elizabeth, Abigail, Brian and Christine. Another son, Glenn, died earlier this year. Urquhart leaves eight grandchildren.
A memorial service will take place at 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 19 at Holy Family Church at 1501 Fremont Ave. in South Pasadena, with a reception immediately following the service at the Urquhart’s home.
The family requests that donations in Urquhart’s memory be made online to the Evening Division of Fordham University’s School of Law through law.fordham.edu/BillUrquhart.