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IP PLAYER BURNS, DOAN TALKING MERGER The weather is heating up, and with it, talk of mergers among local law firms. Intellectual property firm Burns, Doane, Swecker & Mathis, based in Alexandria, Va., is in talks with Merchant & Gould, a 100-lawyer, Minneapolis-based IP boutique, principals of both firms say. Burns, Doane, which employs 90 lawyers nationwide and 67 in Northern Virginia, and Merchant & Gould have been in talks for the past several months, but nothing is finalized and no merger documents have been prepared, says R. Danny Huntington, chairman of Burns, Doane’s executive committee. “Both firms came to the conclusion independently that they wanted to remain exclusively IP,” Huntington says, and they believe that significant growth will help them do so. The potential union would follow the recently announced merger between D.C.’s Wilmer Cutler Pickering and Boston’s Hale & Dorr that will form a new 1,000-lawyer firm, as well as reported ongoing merger discussions between D.C.’s Swidler Berlin Shereff Friedman and San Francisco’s Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. An Orrick spokesperson declined May 7 to comment on the status of those discussions. The merger would bring together nearly 200 IP lawyers and would include Burns, Doane’s offices in Alexandria; Northern California and San Diego; and Durham, N.C., along with Merchant & Gould’s offices in Atlanta, Denver, Minneapolis, Seattle, and D.C. A merger with Burns, Doane would help Merchant & Gould establish a “coast to coast” presence,” says D. Randall King, Merchant & Gould’s managing director and chief executive officer. King adds that “general [service] firms in the IP arena are fiercely competitive, and this is one way in which to deal with that.” A merger with Burns, Doane would instantly beef up Merchant & Gould’s miniscule local presence; the firm has one lawyer in D.C. Both Huntington and King say the combined firm would continue to expand. Two large IP boutiques, Los Angeles-based Lyon & Lyon and New York’s Pennie & Edmonds, both folded within the last two years. King argues that a multitude of other problems — including management issues and significant partner departures — led to those firms’ demise. But Burns, Doane hasn’t been immune from partner defections. Last month, three Alexandria partners left to open up their own IP shop blocks away from their old firm. There are still issues to resolve before the two firms can merge, including establishing a governing structure for the new firm, King says. The issues have not halted the negotiations. “I’m excited about the possibilities here,” Huntington says. — Christine Hines CHANGING TEAMS Michele Roberts, the well-known trial lawyer and former Public Defender Service litigator, is leaving Shea & Gardner after just more than two years and moving to Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld as a partner. Roberts, 47, is one of the few lawyers in the city who is considered equally at home trying a murder case and a white collar fraud matter. Early last week, Roberts wrote in an e-mail that she starts at Akin Gump, which has 950 lawyers in 16 offices, on May 10. However, she was out of town and could not be reached later in the week for her explanation for switching firms. When her law partnership with Mark Rochon broke up in late 2001, Roberts went to Shea & Gardner, where she became a partner after one year. “She’s a terrific trial lawyer, and we wish her all the best at Akin Gump,” says William Hanlon, the administrative partner at 70-lawyer Shea & Gardner. — Jonathan Groner POWDER PANIC Arnold & Porter lawyers and staff received a scare last week when an employee opened an envelope containing a white powdery substance resembling anthrax along with a note that said that the letter-opener had been infected with the deadly virus. Police and fire personnel were called to the firm’s offices at 555 12th St., N.W., around 1:30 p.m. May 6, and initial tests indicated that the substance was a blistering agent. Although further tests confirmed that the substance was not dangerous, no one was allowed in or out of the building for about three hours. The block of 12th Street between E and F streets was also closed until about 4:30 p.m. D.C. Fire Department spokesman Alan Etter declined to identify the employee to whom the letter was addressed. The incident is under investigation by the Metropolitan Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Joint Terrorism Task Force. Arnold & Porter managing partner James Sandman declined to comment. — Marie Beaudette PENALTY PHASE Amidst allegations that one of its prosecutors improperly paid government informants in a 1994 D.C. Superior Court murder case, the U.S. Attorney’s Office last week agreed to drop the murder and kidnapping convictions against one of the defendants. Antoine Rice has been in prison since his arrest 12 years ago and is serving a 25-year sentence for his alleged role in the beating and murder of a drug dealer. At a May 7 hearing, Rice’s lawyer, Sandra Levick of the D.C. Public Defender Service, told Superior Court Judge Herbert Dixon Jr. that if the deal were approved by the court, her client would be immediately released. Levick claims former Assistant U.S. Attorney G. Paul Howes allegedly gave money and other favors to witnesses during Rice’s six-month trial and failed to notify defense lawyers or the court of his actions. Howes, who resigned from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 1995 and is now a lawyer with San Diego’s Lerach Coughlin Stoia & Robbins, is being investigated by the Office of D.C. Bar Counsel for similar conduct in the federal Newton Street Crew drug case, according to court records. In the Newton Street case, a similar deal led to significantly reduced sentences of four convicted crew leaders. Howes’ lawyer, D.C. Baker & McKenzie partner Plato Cacheris, could not be reached for comment. — Tom Schoenberg ISO YOUNG, UNEMPLOYED LAWYERS The Fox network set May 9 for an open casting call at Georgetown’s Third Edition for a new, as-yet-untitled, legal reality television show starring young lawyers competing in mock trials and courtroom battles. The prize: a “lucrative” job with a prestigious law firm, according to an ad for the casting call. The show, produced by Rocket Science Laboratories, the brawn behind reality TV’s “Joe Millionaire” and “My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance,” is trying to lure viewers who fixated on Donald Trump’s business reality show, “The Apprentice.” The show will pit Ivy League grads against J.D.s from less prestigious law schools, according to Tyler Ramsey, supervising casting director for Rocket Science. Celebrity lawyers or judges may serve in a Trumplike role, eliminating contestants each week. No word on which judges, lawyers, or firms might be involved. Interested lawyers who missed the casting call can still apply to Rocket Science. “We want the whole country to apply,” Ramsey says. — Marie Beaudette DEAN’S LIST Michael Young, dean of George Washington University Law School, is heading west. Young was tapped as the new president of the University of Utah. Calling Utah “an extraordinary research university,” Young says that the chance is one that he just could not pass up. During his six years at GW, Young is credited with raising grade point averages and LSAT scores, strengthening the school’s profile of minority students, and expanding the career development office. Young’s wife was born in Orem, Utah, and he received his undergraduate degree from Brigham Young University. Young will assume the presidency in early August. He is not the only local law school dean moving on these days, however. Georgetown University Law Center honored its outgoing dean, Judith Areen, with a black tie dinner at the Mayflower Hotel May 7 and is establishing a scholarship in Areen’s name. The Law Center announced in March that former Immigration and Naturalization Service counsel and constitutional law scholar T. Alexander Aleinikoff will succeed Areen. — Bethany Broida THE PLAY’S THE THING All the world’s a stage, including the halls of Covington & Burling. Partners Robert Sayler and John Hall recruited University of Virginia School of Law professor and former professional actress Rebecca Diaz-Bonilla to give a few dozen associates drama lessons to improve their oral communication skills. Last month, Bonilla led the associates in dramatic readings, improvisational skits, and mock client presentations. “I’m sort of a frustrated thespian myself,” says Hall, a trial lawyer. Hall and Sayler wanted the firm’s nonlitigation associates to have an opportunity to improve their oratory. The performances, which were taped for each associate, forced the lawyers “out of your normal comfort zone,” says third-year litigation associate Sean Cairncross. He says it was fun to see his colleagues fumbling through dramatic readings. “You certainly don’t ever see them reading Shakespeare,” he says. — Marie Beaudette ALMOST THERE Jonathan Dudas, acting director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, moved a step closer to officially taking the reins of the PTO at a confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week. In front of the committee’s chairman, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), and ranking minority member, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Dudas spoke of his ability and willingness to take the White House-nominated position. There apparently was no opposition. “We can either congratulate you or offer you condolences on your new position,” Leahy said. Dudas would take over the agency at a time when the PTO is addressing issues of patent quality, application backlogs, and a lack of funds. Near the hearing’s end, Hatch declared his confidence in Dudas: “We’ll try to get you confirmed as soon as we possibly can.” — Christine Hines OUT OF REACH Attorneys are not subject to federal privacy laws that govern financial institutions, a D.C. federal judge ruled last week. The ruling marks another victory for attorneys, led by the New York State Bar Association, against the Federal Trade Commission, which had refused to exempt attorneys from the 1999 law, known as the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. Under the act, financial institutions like banks and credit card companies must annually notify customers of their privacy policies. The notices also must explain that customers have a right to opt out of having their information shared with third parties. Attorneys have argued that they should not be subject to the law because attorney-client privilege and ethics rules already govern the relationship between lawyers and their clients, but the FTC refused to exempt them from the regulations. The ruling, from Judge Reggie Walton of U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, found that the FTC’s decision was “arbitrary and capricious” and granted summary judgment for the attorneys. — Tom Perotta, New York Law Journal

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