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Cooley Godward’s James Fulton Jr. worked long and hard to make it to partner. He finally did in January 2001 — just in time for the bottom to fall out for corporate transactional practices in Silicon Valley. “It was definitely easier to build a practice during the boom,” Fulton said. “It was just a matter of promptly returning phone calls.” Fulton, 36, is one of a cadre of young partners who started at firms as the dot-com boom began and who reached the partnership just as the boom turned to a bust. That has meant a complete change of tactics. Where clients once seemed easier to get than indigestion from truck-stop chili, now lawyers are having to work hard to attract and keep even the shakiest of startup clients. Still, the downturn and its companion lean times haven’t cooled Fulton on his choice to practice in Silicon Valley. “If you put the energy into it, it’s not impossible,” he said. Fulton said he came to the Valley to work with venture capitalists and startup companies in 1995. “At the time, the Valley wasn’t the hottest thing on the planet,” Fulton said. “For the people who knew about venture capital, it was the place to be but it wasn’t on the cover of Fortune.” Once at Cooley, Fulton quickly got a feel for what life would be like in the boom years to come. Boxes of documents were waiting for him in his office the day he started. Fulton got to work right away on an initial public offering for Documentum Inc., a Pleasanton-based software company. His first months on the job were a blur of late nights at the printer followed by 3 a.m. feedings for his newborn daughter, he said. These days, nothing comes close. Since he made partner, Fulton has been beating the bushes for work alongside hundreds of other hungry corporate lawyers. But like many of his colleagues in the Valley, Fulton said things may be looking up. A spate of recent IPOs — and plenty more in the pipeline — may be a sign that business is getting better. Fulton even spent a recent evening working on a term sheet until 10 p.m. It was an early night by boom-time standards, but it had the same feel, Fulton said. “It had that feeling that there’s a sense of urgency,” he said.

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