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Peter Kerman’s mission to find new space for Latham & Watkins’ Silicon Valley office should be a snap. You can’t toss a balled-up share of dot-com stock in Silicon Valley without hitting an empty office building. And Kerman isn’t exactly beating back crowds of shoppers as he peruses prospective space. But law firms can be expensive to set up, what with every lawyer wanting a window office on the building perimeter, the “right” kind of conference rooms and convenient file storage. It’s especially so when a firm has as many lawyers as Latham, which counts 66 attorneys in its Menlo Park office. Kerman, the managing partner of Latham’s Valley office, isn’t finding many commercial landlords willing to bankroll a complete remodel of space that more often than not once housed a cubicle farm. “There is space that’s available, and it is cheap,” Kerman said. “The problem is landlord willingness to give you a good tenant-improvement package because it requires them to reach into their pocket for dollars.” Latham also must decide if it can weather the same glutted real estate market that Kerman is trying to use to the firm’s advantage. The firm still has four more years to go on its lease for its current building, a white mini-palace along Highway 101 emblazoned with the firm’s name. Whether to move the whole satellite or just lease additional space in the Valley is somewhat dependent on the number of law firms out there looking to sublease Latham’s space. Kerman has yet to see much interest in the space from other law firms. “The ability to leave the building in toto is based on the ability to sublease,” Kerman said. “And in this market, it’s tough.” Latham has already taken on some chunks of real estate, about 15,000 square feet, in a neighboring building for some litigation war rooms. Kerman still has some time, however. Even after the fall first-years all arrive, the firm will have about a dozen empty offices to accommodate visitors and growth. Panic doesn’t set in until the empty rooms are down to five or six. “We’re not sweating, but we’re clearly looking,” Kerman said. “Looking for space always has its challenges.” Sooner or later, Kerman said, the firm will have to bite the bullet and make a decision “unless we’re going to bring RVs into the parking lot.”

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