Let’s be friends: merged law firms split in ‘conscious decoupling’

Breit Cantor’s team before the split, from left, included Irv Cantor, Kevin Biniazan, Joseph Cantor, Jeffrey Breit, Scott Bucci, Justin Sheldon, Elliott Buckner and Stephanie Grana. (BizSense File)

The honeymoon is over for Breit Cantor.

The regional personal injury law firm, which was formed in 2019 with the marriage of Richmond-based Cantor Stoneburner Ford Grana & Buckner and Virginia Beach-based Breit Drescher Imprevento, has been split into two.

It’s a breakup, no doubt, but both parties say it’s about as clean and friendly as it gets.

“I know people say breakups are never mutual, but this one really was,” said Kevin Biniazan, now managing partner of Breit Biniazan, the new incarnation of the Virginia Beach faction.

Elliott Buckner

Elliott Buckner, partner of what is now called Cantor Grana Buckner Bucci, said the same about the Richmond side.

“People always love a good gossip breakup story, but there just isn’t one here,” Buckner said. “I don’t want to use the popular term ‘conscious decoupling’, but that’s really what it was.”

The April 2019 merger first took place when veteran lawyers and longtime friends Irv Cantor and Jeffrey Breit, the most notable of their respective firms’ namesakes, thought it made business sense to take the relationship to the next level.

The logic – beyond the idea that they were good friends – was that linking the two firms between Hampton Roads and Richmond would make for a more formidable competitor with 14 lawyers in both markets.

But the initial thrill of fucking wore off as the day-to-day running of a law firm progressed.

“Jeffrey and Irv are best friends and it really brought everyone together. Everyone got along very well, but we were two different companies,” Biniazan said. “There were just different views and visions of what the future looks like in how people practice and manage.”

One of the main differences that proved irreconcilable was how to grow the business in the future.

Kevin Biniazan

Biniazan said he and Breit wanted to take on cases further afield than Virginia.

“We have the ambition and goal to not only be a premier testing company in Virginia, but we also believe that Jeffrey had a great career nationally and our ambition to be a who seeks to represent people who have been injured across the country,” he said. “We have the ambition to be truly a national practice.”

The Cantor Group, however, loves what it has here in the Commonwealth.

“We’ve always had a very strong desire to just be the best company in Virginia and that’s still our goal,” Buckner said.

So they set about untying the tie, a process that took just a few months and went into effect earlier this month. The result includes some reshuffling of offices and some new names on each company’s flag.

Breit Biniazan’s name is partly due to the retirement of two of the previous namesakes and the fact that Biniazan was elevated to the position of managing partner. The William & Mary grad was hired by Breit straight out of law school in 2017 and has been with the firm ever since.

The firm has five attorneys in its Virginia Beach office and three in Richmond. It plans to open an office in downtown Richmond in the spring, Biniazan said. He also has a Portsmouth office in the works coinciding with the addition of Don Scott, a Virginia lawyer and delegate to the General Assembly.

Cantor Grana Buckner Bucci will retain its head office in Richmond’s West End and has seven lawyers.

Her new name is the result of the retirement of Lewis Stoneburner and Aubrey Ford, and gives her partner Scott Bucci a place at the masthead.

Ultimately, both sides are adamant that there’s no bad blood. Biniazan and Buckner said the parties now see clearly that they should have remained friends.

“It’s almost like the relationship was perfect the way it was and you tried to take that extra step and it didn’t go as planned,” Biniazan said.

Buckner added that the divorce did not kill the friendship.

“We were friends when we got together and we’re still friends,” he said.

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