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Law firms are lining up to hire intellectual property litigators, believing their practices are both lucrative and recession-proof. Need evidence? Check out how hot IP litigators at L.A.-based Lyon & Lyon became after the firm announced Aug. 9 that it plans to dissolve. Firms as disparate as Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe; Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati; O’Melveny & Myers; Perkins Coie; Fulbright & Jaworski; Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue; Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges; and Sidley Austin Brown & Wood have courted Lyon’s IP refugees. “Our perception is this is a practice, especially on the litigation side, that is more or less immune to cycles,” said O’Melveny’s Mark Samuels, the partner who heads the firm’s IP group. O’Melveny hired several key Lyon & Lyon IP partners. Though plenty of Lyon’s litigators have already found new homes, a large part of the firm’s IP group in Irvine is looking to move en masse. On Monday, Orrick appeared to take the place of Wilson as the lead suitor of the lawyers. Wilson had been in meaningful talks with the team and toyed with opening a Southern California satellite office to accommodate them. Wilson announced Friday the talks were off, but the team from Lyon lost no time in lining up Orrick. Orrick Chairman Ralph Baxter Jr. was cheery about his shot at the group. “We are optimistic that we will be able to work out the terms to bring a substantial number of people from Lyon,” Baxter said. Baxter was mum on the details, but said the deal involved a group in Irvine and individuals in other Lyon offices. “The decision of Lyon & Lyon to dissolve made available a substantial number of lawyers,” Baxter added. “If this gets to the finish line, this will mean a material increase in our IP capability.” The de facto leader of the Irvine-based group of Lyon lawyers, James Geriak, didn’t return several calls for comment. Orrick has about 80 IP lawyers, primarily in New York and Northern California, Baxter said. The addition of the Lyon lawyers would carve out a toehold for the firm in Southern California. Last week, O’Melveny & Myers announced it had hired five Lyon lawyers, and Perkins Coie announced it had scored two. Jones, Day has hired nine Lyon lawyers in the past year as rumors of the firm’s troubles surfaced. The firm had been in merger talks with Townsend and Townsend and Crew but they broke off last month, precipitating the firm’s ultimate demise. Bill Nason, Southern California legal recruiter with Watanabe Nason & Seltzer, said the firms in the IP hunt “probably see it as maybe the last chance to grab a significant number of IP attorneys in one fell swoop.” He likened the recruitment efforts to “the last bite of the apple.” Some firms are balking at taking on large groups because few firms want to invest in large new offices at year’s end, Nason said. Leverage issues have also been a problem for the Lyon team, Nason said. Wilson, for example, asked the Lyon team to map out how it could raise its leverage from one-to-one to three-to-one and increase revenues. Orrick hasn’t made such demands, he said. Robert Feldman, Wilson’s head of litigation, said there was no single concern that killed the deal. “There were too many pieces of this thing that didn’t come together,” Feldman said. “While we had a lot of respect for them individually, our firm decided there ultimately wasn’t a fit between their group and ours.” But Wilson is still in the market to hire IP lawyers, Feldman said. “One of our highest priorities is to add additional capacity so we can handle more intellectual property cases,” Feldman said. “Given our client base and technology focus, IP litigation is a natural fit.” There are some firms not lining up for a bite from the Lyon buffet. Michael Jacobs, co-chairman of Morrison & Foerster’s IP group, said he’s looked at a few Lyon lawyers and didn’t find the right match. But with 132 IP litigators already on board, Jacobs has the luxury of waiting for the right hire. “There’s a dearth of genuine talent in the area,” Jacobs said. “It is therefore difficult for firms to break into the area in a significant way, but that doesn’t stop firms from trying.”

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