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Southern California’s Burke, Williams & Sorensen has gained a foothold in Northern California by snapping up public sector labor and employment boutique Kay & Stevens in Menlo Park. Burke Williams managing partner John Welsh said that lawyers from the six-attorney Kay & Stevens contacted him at the end of March, and the deal came together quickly. The combination, effective June 1, not only gave 55-attorney Burke Williams an entry point into Silicon Valley but augmented its growing labor and employment group, which Welsh said has about doubled in the past five years to now include 17 lawyers. Headquartered in Los Angeles, Burke Williams also has California offices in Orange County, Palm Desert, Ventura County and the Inland Empire and also focuses on environmental, public, real estate and business law and trial advocacy. Welsh said partner rates range between $275 and $325 per hour. Kay & Stevens co-founding partner William Kay said partners from his firm charge about $295. Five of the Kay firm’s lawyers, and possibly the sixth on a part-time basis, will form the heart of the Menlo Park office. Welsh said the plan is to grow the team to between 15 and 20 lawyers within two years. “In terms of trying to land in Northern California, this is a wonderful opportunity, given the extensive client relationships Kay & Stevens has been able to establish,” Welsh said. That client list includes cities, counties, school districts and public agencies for which the Kay firm has handled labor and employment negotiations and collective bargaining agreements. Kay said that his firm had started with a list of about 10 others they considered as merger candidates. “We decided that we needed to find a larger law firm that would provide a broader spectrum of public sector services,” he said. “We’ve been turning away a lot of business — we just didn’t have the horses.” Among the complementary services Kay said his firm was looking for were special education law and property law, as well as trial work. Jeffrey Sloan, a labor law partner at public law firm Renne Sloan Holtzman Sakai, called Kay & Stevens “giants in their fields” who have made substantial contributions over the years to the development of California’s public sector labor law. Also, “they have done an amazingly large amount of pro bono work for the key California special interest organizations for labor relations professionals.” Currently, partner M. Carol Stevens is handling firefighter negotiations in Oakland, Calif., and also represents BART, Kay said. Kay counts among his clients Oak Grove School District and Berryessa Union School District in Santa Clara County as well as San Mateo County’s Sequoia Union High School District and Redwood City School District. Sloan, based on his prior experience as San Francisco managing partner at Liebert Cassidy Whitmore and a partner of the D.C.-based firm then known as McKenna & Cuneo, said that integrating a small, geographically distant office composed of public sector labor and employment law specialists into a general practice law firm can be quite challenging. “Public sector labor and employment lawyers have a discrete community of interest that sets them apart from general practitioners serving corporate clients,” he said. “The ‘branch office’ syndrome, prevalent when a small group of specialists work remotely from the mothership, is yet another challenge that a merger such as this will need to overcome.”

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