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Denver firm Fairfield and Woods is on a Rocky Mountain high. Well, maybe not a high, but things are looking relatively rosy for the 42-attorney shop. The law firm is slowly growing at a time when many others are shedding lawyers, and business held steady in 2008, despite the fact that other firms saw a falloff. Leaders at Fairfield and Woods don’t claim to have any secret to weathering an economic storm, but they do acknowledge that geography and size have helped it avoid some of problems besetting the competition. “It’s a pretty good time to be a lawyer in Denver,” said John Eckstein, a partner in the firm’s corporate practice. “We aren’t a finance center, and real estate here hasn’t been as adversely affected.” Indeed, the slowing economy hasn’t hit Denver as hard as many other cities. The region has a fairly diversified economic base — including oil, telecommunications, alternative energy and technology, among other things — and economists are predicting that the recession will be somewhat milder in the Denver area. For example, one economist expects to see employment fall by 0.4 percent in 2009 in Colorado, compared to an expected job decline of 1.1 percent nationally. FREEZING ITS RATES That’s good news for Fairfield and Woods, since its client base is locally held companies in the region. And though the Denver economy isn’t hurting quite as badly as in other cities, the firm decided to freeze its billing rates for 2009 at the 2008 levels. “Why hammer our clients when they already have enough trouble?,” Eckstein said. “Clients deserve a law firm that understand their problems, and we’re in this for the long run.” Several weeks ago, Fairfield and Woods filed a Chapter 11 action on behalf of national jewelry chain The Shane Co. The firm also assisted ConocoPhillips in its purchase last year of a 432-acre campus outside of Denver owned by Sun Microsystems Inc. It’s not just geography that is helping buttress the firm against the sagging economy, however. Managing partner Caroline Fuller said that diversification among the law firm’s three core practice areas of real estate, litigation and corporate work has given it more stability. Following the national trend, Fairfield and Woods’ corporate work was down in 2008. It doesn’t do the type of securities and capital markets deals that have all but dried up since September, but it saw fewer mergers and acquisitions and venture capital financing deals. At the same time that corporate work slowed down, litigation picked up significantly at the firm. “Our litigators are as busy as we’ve seen them in a long, long time,” Fuller said. The firm has recently added two litigation partners, and a third is set to join this month. Craig Joyce, the head of the firm’s litigation department, said the firm is handling more “default-based litigation,” which includes commercial foreclosures, defaults on commercial and industrial leases, and lawsuits to collect special-district assessments or homeowner association dues, among other things. Surprisingly, the real estate practice also kept pace in 2008 with the previous year. Other firms have reported that real estate work is very slow, but some of Fairfield and Woods’ clients are smelling opportunity. “We have some clients looking at the down economy as a time to make deals,” Fuller said. “We have a client who bought up about 15 sites from a troubled developer.” The firm also is working on several projects in the land-use phase, thus clearing the paperwork and planning so that construction may begin immediately once the economy picks up. In addition, it is busy with a significant number of real estate loan renegotiations, since the number of new loans has fallen off, and it is in the process of expanding its office space by a quarter, with long-range plans to add another six or seven attorneys. SMALL BY CHOICE Overnight growth has never been a goal of the firm, which has stayed relatively small by choice. It has passed on merger offers from other Denver firms, as well as offers to become the Denver office of national firms. Eckstein said that Fairfield and Woods doesn’t have to worry about problems or slow practices in other branches putting pressure on it because it has stayed independent. “We’ve consciously decided not to grow exponentially when times are hot, so we don’t have to downsize when times are slow,” Fuller said. Although 2008 didn’t mark a big slowdown for the firm, it wasn’t a boom time either. Fuller said revenue stayed about flat last year compared to 2007. But she doesn’t necessarily see that as a bad thing. “All things considered, flat isn’t that bad,” she said.

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