A. William Urquhart, who helped transform Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan from a small Los Angeles firm into a global litigation powerhouse, has died.

Urquhart, known as Bill, died from complications stemming from a bone marrow transplant, Quinn Emanuel announced Oct. 7. He was 72.

After graduating from Fordham University School of Law, which he attended at night, Urquhart met John B. Quinn when the two young attorneys were associates at Cravath, Swaine & Moore.

In 1988, Urquhart decided to join the two-year-old firm Quinn had founded, which became Quinn Emanuel & Urquhart.

“Our firm grew into the largest litigation firm,” Quinn told Bloomberg Law. “He was the engine who made it happen.”

“His passing is the end of an era.” Quinn added. “The firm is a perpetual motion machine now. I think the juggernaut will keep rolling, and that we will continue to grow.”

At Quinn Emanuel, Urquhart gained acclaim not only for his lawyering skills but for his empathy and sense of fun.

Instead of formal business suits, the Massapequa, New York native interviewed many candidates while he wore a track suit. That did not deter law students and laterals from joining, and the firm grew from 15 lawyers to some 800 lawyers in 23 offices.

“Bill was really good at bringing people together,” said Quinn. “He had an instinctive way of understanding people and what made them tick, what they needed, and what’s motivating them.”

Bill Urquhart
Courtesy of Quinn Emanuel

Urquhart, who had been a vice president and general counsel at the New York Insurance Exchange between 1985 and 1988 and an associate at Willkie Farr & Gallagher for five years prior to that, built a reputation at Quinn Emanuel for handling complex business disputes, from international arbitration and patent disputes to class actions.

He was lauded as a negotiator, and won a number of industry plaudits for his work.

“If there is a negotiation to be had, he could find it,” recalled Quinn. “He understood we are all the same— struggling and insecure. A lot of litigators are polarizing, but he never lost sight of [the fact] that adversaries were just trying to do their job.”

Urquhart’s clients included Hughes Aircraft, Johnson Controls, CNA, Nokia, Qualcomm and IBM, which he represented in a range of matters, including multiple nationwide class actions.

He helped put his law firm on the map when he won an emergency appeal in the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a case stemming from the 2001 California electricity crisis. Other notable cases included his representation of Freedom Wireless in a patent infringement lawsuit against a number of large cellular carriers. He won hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements, including what was at the time the largest damages award from a jury in Massachusetts.

Kathleen M. Sullivan, whom Urquhart recruited to create Quinn Emanuel’s appellate practice, said in a statement that he foresaw the firm would become a 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.

One of Urquhart’s longtime clients, Don Rosenberg, general counsel of Qualcomm, said in a statement that Urquhart’s departure has left “a vacancy in the world that can’t be filled.”

“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,” he said. “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.”