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It was the Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati version of pulling out all the stops. As intellectual property litigators looked to jump from the wreckage of Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison earlier this year, Wilson partners trundled off to San Diego, commandeered the biggest conference room at the Brobeck outpost and tried to turn on the charm. A few days later a planeload of Brobeck lawyers flew to the Bay Area and dined with Larry Sonsini, Wilson’s chairman. While some firms seem to be perpetually in the market for big groups of laterals, this was somewhat unfamiliar territory for Wilson. And the firm was unsuccessful as well. Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker — which had been talking to the Brobeck lawyers for months — ended up with most of the IP litigators. If Wilson hopes to increase its IP litigation prowess to match its corporate strength, the firm may need to sharpen its people skills to attract top talent. The firm’s brass has decided that IP litigation is a top priority and has been putting its energy into recruiting laterals. But Wilson can’t seem to move as fast as its competition, and the firm’s main selling point — its reputation in the tech sector — doesn’t have the cachet it once did. On top of all that, the firm is very strict about guarding its profits and culture, both of which can be threatened by adding lots of laterals. “They’re very protective of their dilution and leveraging, like a mother bear looking over her cubs,” says legal recruiter William Nason, a principal at Watanabe Nason & Seltzer who has worked with candidates that Wilson has courted. Even before the Brobeck episode, Wilson has tried to woo groups of IP litigators to no avail. The firm failed to pull off a merger with Fish & Neave, the New York IP boutique, which could have propelled Wilson into a leading position among IP players. Wilson partners admit they’ve come up empty. But they say they aren’t willing to bend their rules to make deals happen nor are they willing to take on just anybody. “My philosophy is we don’t have to be knee-jerk,” says Sonsini. “We don’t just go off and hire all over the place willy-nilly.” The firm has taken a somewhat plodding approach to building an IP litigation team. In fact, the firm didn’t set out to launch a huge practice group when it hired partner Ron Shulman in 1995 to start its IP litigation group. The firm’s partners had worked alongside Shulman when he was a partner at Fish & Neave and were impressed. Shulman was a marquee name on the East Coast. But after his move to Palo Alto, he had to start from scratch marketing himself to potential clients and even to his own partners. It took him eight months to snare a case, and he got that by winning a beauty contest. Now he gets most of his work from companies that aren’t current Wilson clients. Only three of his 12 active cases involve corporate clients of the firm, he says. “For years, people on the corporate side didn’t believe that Wilson had the capacity to do this sort of work,” says Shulman. The firm has built its IP group by hiring associates and promoting from within. With only a handful of IP litigators on staff when Shulman arrived, the group currently numbers 60 lawyers. But hiring laterals — and by extension, latching onto their books of business — hadn’t been a priority. Shulman contends it was a smart decision because IP litigation wasn’t a terribly hot practice area during the technology boom of the late 1990s. “You don’t buy capacity and then look to see if you have the business to support it,” he says. Even if IP litigation had been popping, Wilson management was focused on building the firm’s corporate team. “No one paid a lot of attention to us,” says Michael Ladra, an IP litigation partner. “We were happily toiling away in obscurity.” That changed when corporate work dried up. Instead of doing deals, companies started using their IP portfolios as a competitive tool, and IP litigation began to take off. Even without high-profile laterals, Wilson has been able to score some victories for clients. Shulman successfully defended Broadcom Corp. against a pair of patent infringement claims raised by Intel Corp. Shulman also won a jury verdict for client Brocade Communications Systems Inc., which was sued by McData Corp. for patent infringement. Ladra, for his part, has won several key victories before the International Trade Commission. “It’s been a slow-building thing but we’re starting to get critical mass,” says Ladra. “We could grow the business if we had more people, but it’s a tougher calculation because what are you really getting out of it besides growth for growth’s sake?” In recent years, however, Wilson has tried to speed up growth in the IP litigation group. Shulman was the partner who suggested talking to Fish & Neave about a merger — despite Wilson’s longtime policy against growth through merging. Talks fizzled after a handful of meetings in late 2001 and early 2002. Wilson partners say they’re still open to a deal. However, a Fish partner, speaking on condition of anonymity, says partners worried they would lose their autonomy if they were to agree to a merger. They also worried they would wind up as service partners for the firm’s corporate group. Wilson, meanwhile, also flirted with a group of IP litigators from Lyon & Lyon, the Los Angeles-based IP boutique that dissolved last year. Who walked away from the Lyon deal first is unclear. But Nason, the legal recruiter, says Wilson was late to the scene and didn’t offer as competitive a package as other firms. The issue isn’t that Wilson is stingy, says Nason. Instead, the firm hasn’t appeared willing to step outside its business model to compete with other firms that are more proactive about recruiting. “What they didn’t realize is to get a desirable IP group in today’s market is analogous to participating in an eBay auction,” says Nason. Wilson did manage to win over a former Brobeck IP litigator, M. Craig Tyler, from the defunct firm’s office in Austin, Texas. Wilson is also expected to add an IP litigation partner in Palo Alto. The two mark the first lateral IP litigation partner hires since Shulman joined the firm. Wilson doesn’t plan to stop with IP litigators. In January, Vern Norviel, the former general counsel at Affymetrix Inc., signed on as a partner to help build a biotech IP practice. Sonsini says Wilson moved IP up on the list of priorities when the firm’s clients began to demand the expertise. Five years ago, he says, a great priority was attached to hiring mergers and acquisitions attorneys. “What you look for are the needs of the market and the needs of the customers,” says Sonsini. Now that clients are demanding more IP expertise, the firm is ready to respond, he says. “IP has become more of a priority and a revenue driver for enterprises than it used to be,” says Sonsini. “Its time has come.”

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