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Ten lawyers, including six partners, have left Los Angeles-based Jeffer, Mangels, Butler & Marmaro to start their own firm, Elkins Kalt Weintraub Reuben Gartside. The new firm opened on Jan. 1. Keith Elkins, a former Jeffer Mangels partner who is now name partner at Elkins Kalt, said that alternative billing structures, which have become more prevalent in the current economic downturn, played a role in the group’s decision to start their own firm. “We feel like it gave us an advantage to be on our own in this environment, to be able to adapt well to what happens to be a pretty unusual environment economically,” he said. “Some of the clients are finding they need to be a little bit more creative in the way they get legal services handled. And so, we’re definitely going to be open-minded on that.” But Elkins also emphasized that the economy was not the driving force behind the group’s decision to leave. “We were so excited about the opportunity to put that group together and strike out on our own,” he said. The six partners have been working together at Jeffer Mangels for about two decades. In addition to Elkins, the founding partners are Scott Kalt, Bill Weintraub, Jeff Reuben, Fred Gartside and Jeff Riffer. On Jan. 4, four associates, Ray Friedman, Tom Levy, Chris Whitt and Kristi Kirksey, joined from Jeffer Mangels. Friedman and Levy are now partners at the new firm, and Whitt and Kirksey are associates. The new firm is not wedded to a particular growth strategy or practice area, Elkins said. The firm’s partners have practiced in real estate, tax, trusts and estates, litigation and corporate, although many of their clients are in real estate, such as Trammell Crow Co., which is a subsidiary of CB Richard Ellis, and IDS Real Estate Group in Los Angeles. Other clients are AIG Retirement Services Inc., Laemmle Theatres and South Africa’s government. Elkins said that having their own firm would allow the group to be more flexible for clients, particularly in regard to billing structures, he said. Like other midsize firms, Jeffer Mangels recently reduced its starting salaries for associates from $160,000 to $145,000 this fall, said Ben Reznik, chairman of the government, land use, environment and energy department at Jeffer Mangels. But the firm’s leadership opted not to change its billing rates, he said. “We made some reductions to be comparable with the others, but really on the rate structure it would be counter to our business model to sort of chase, if you will, the bottom and discount our work and try to underbid competing law firms for work,” he said. “We basically were in a position to be true to our business model and not have to all of a sudden start discounting everything and chasing the business that was available, and that’s what’s been happening in real estate.” Departures of large groups of lawyers are unusual for Jeffer Mangels, a firm with about 145 attorneys in the Los Angeles area and San Francisco. “We respect their entrepreneurial spirits,” Reznik said of the departing attorneys. “This firm, Jeffer Mangels, was built on an entrepreneurial spirit with lateral partners coming into the firm who had run their own practices in the past.” The move comes nine months after a trio of partners from Irell & Manella left to form their own firm, Los Angeles-based Kendall Brill & Klieger, in order to provide more flexible billing arrangements and rates for their clients.

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