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Diane Savage left Cooley Godward at the height of the tech boom in 2000, looking for a slower pace and a more manageable life. She took a gig at Stanford University’s business school and settled into a few comfortable years of teaching, along with a little consulting work on the side. So where is Savage now? Back in the fold at her old firm, Cooley, working part time in the information technology practice that she helped to create. She has returned to a place she had fled a few years ago. “Taking a break was good for me,” Savage said. “I came back more energized.” The Cooley of counsel is just one in a string of Bay Area lawyers returning to big-firm life after stints in house — or in Savage’s case, in semi-retirement. Law firms seem to be regaining their allure because of their relative stability and steady and diverse workload. That’s particularly true for in-house attorneys, who are finding that a lot of companies are on shaky ground and can’t provide the high salaries of the dot-com era. And in-house counsel may also face greater liability for corporate wrongdoing in the wake of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which was signed into law last year. Among the recent refugees from in-house jobs are Michael Phillips, who left Morrison & Foerster in 1998 to become general counsel and senior vice president of business development at what is now JDS Uniphase. He returned to MoFo on Tuesday. Former Cooley partner Brian Cunningham returned to his old firm as of counsel this week. And Fenwick’s Mark Stevens, who left in 1999 to become a business development executive for the now-bankrupt Excite At Home Corp., returned to the fold in May. “It’s absolutely a trend,” said recruiter Avis Caravello. “This is not a particularly good time to be in house for a number of reasons.” But not everyone is going to be welcomed back to firms with open arms, Caravello said. “The associates who left can’t come back,” she said. “The guys at banks and the financial institution general counsel — I don’t think they could walk in. You had to have been a big player.” Partners who’ve recently gone back to their old jobs say they missed the variety of clients and work at the firms. While Stevens acknowledged that there is more security within a strong law firm, he said that’s not the reason he went back to Fenwick. “As an outside lawyer you get to be involved in multiple industries at the senior level, and I find that very exciting,” Stevens said. For Phillips, staying occupied at JDS was an issue. The work he was doing had slowed down because of the economic downturn. Phillips went to Uniphase primarily to help the company with consolidation initiatives. He coordinated the acquisition of 20 companies, including the 1999 merger of Uniphase and JDS Fitel. “In the current market there is less of that,” Phillips said. “I now prefer to be in a firm with a lot of different clients and different matters instead of one where I’m needed less because of where the business is at.” Some partners are choosing to go to other firms than their former stomping grounds. Former Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati partner Robert Clarkson joined Jones Day in February after a six-year stint working in house and as a consultant. And James Brelsford, who had managed Perkins Coie’s Bay Area offices before taking a business development job with the now-defunct At Home Corp., went to Jones Day last year. Savage said she “considered other firms” when she was looking to move back into big-firm life. But despite memories of the long hours and hectic pace, Cooley was home. “For me,” Savage said, “there’s much more value coming back to an organization where you’ve made” a mark.

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