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Demand for lateral hires in Los Angeles has picked up in recent weeks but remained subdued compared to markets like Silicon Valley and New York. “I haven’t seen a whole bunch of lateral moves in L.A. I’ve seen it in New York, in D.C. We’ve seen it in Chicago because we’re making placements there,” said Alan Miles, of legal search firm Alan Miles & Associates Inc. in Los Angeles. “But 2010? Not so much in L.A.” Traditionally, Los Angeles has not been as hot a lateral market as Silicon Valley, where the client base is emerging-growth companies. In contrast, Los Angeles is saturated with law firms and serves as headquarters for very few major public companies, compared to New York or Chicago. Moreover, the economic recession has hit Los Angeles particularly hard, especially in the real estate arena. That said, there have been some notable lateral moves in Los Angeles recently. Most of the activity has centered around specific practice groups, such as litigation — specifically, patent litigation, white-collar defense, securities fraud and labor and employment class actions. In January, for instance, Chicago’s Mayer Brown lured Elizabeth Mann, a complex litigation partner from McDermott Will & Emery, and Los Angeles real estate firm Allen Matkins Leck Gamble Mallory & Natsis recruited commercial litigator Alan Clark, a longtime partner at Latham & Watkins. In December, Philadelphia’s Drinker Biddle & Reath added six litigators in Los Angeles, including partners George T. Caplan and Henry Shields Jr., both from Epstein Becker & Green. Lawyers in bankruptcy and commercial finance also remain in demand, as are those specializing in regulatory work, particularly in finance, banking, energy and entertainment. Several of the firms that have lured laterals are relatively new entrants to Los Angeles, such as Philadelphia’s Blank Rome, which attracted six new attorneys n January, including corporate partner Dennis Codon and labor partner Howard Knee. Washington’s Crowell & Moring added five litigators in November, including partners Michael L. Cypers, the former head of Mayer Brown’s litigation practice in Los Angeles, and Mark Troy, a government contracts partner from McKenna Long & Aldridge. In Los Angeles, most of the larger firms that are hiring are filling gaps or expanding practices with one or two lateral acquisitions, said Edward Poll, president of LawBiz Management Co., a legal consulting firm in Venice, Calif. Some are focused on work in Asia, not Los Angeles, he said. Firms are hiring laterals in a “guarded fashion, meaning the firm to which they’re moving is making a reasonably good purchase,” he said. “In other words, the terms under which they would bring the lateral person in are much more favorable to the firm than they ever would have been, and they’re doing more on a trial basis than they’ve done before. Their commitments are not long term.” The number of years on their contract is fewer and the compensation lower, he said. One of the firms with the most lateral departures in Los Angeles has been Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, which has lost a significant number of partners in recent years. Most recently, James Hsu, a corporate partner who advises businesses in China, left in January for Squire, Sanders & Dempsey. Michael B. Lubic, a bankruptcy partner, joined K&L Gates in October. Still, Sonnenschein is hiring, said Darry Sragow, managing partner of the Los Angeles office. Many of the laterals approaching his firm for jobs are income partners without large enough books of business, he said. In this economy, he added, the firm needs partners with a book of business totaling at least a $2 million. “There are a lot of attorneys who are looking to move whose practices have either never been particularly robust or who had very significant practices but don’t now,” he said. “And one of the reasons there may not be movement is that I’m not sure many firms, including ours, are willing to make a commitment to people in those categories right now.” Then there are partners who have split to create their own firms so that they can offer clients flexible billing rates. In January, a group of 10 lawyers with prominent real estate clients left Los Angeles-based Jeffer, Mangels, Butler & Marmaro to launch Elkins Kalt Weintraub Reuben Gartside. “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,” said Keith Elkins, one of the former Jeffer Mangels partners, said at the time of the announcement. “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.” One firm has done quite well in the lateral market: Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton. The Los Angeles-based firm has hired a dozen laterals during the past year in practice groups including real estate, entertainment, health care, employment and white-collar defense, said firm chairman Guy Halgren. For example, recently the firm has recruited Kelly Crabb, a longtime entertainment partner at Morrison & Foerster; Richard Kopenhefer, a labor and employment partner in the entertainment industry who came from McDermott Will & Emery; and Curtis Dombek, a former partner at Bryan Cave who practices in international arbitration, including in Asia. “For us, Los Angeles has been hotter than Silicon Valley, New York or D.C.,” Halgren said. “I think it’s probably because the firm itself had a very good year last year, relative to our competition.” For more laterals coverage, read our special report in this week’s issue of The National Law Journal.

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