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The international law firm Coudert Brothers will shutter its doors in Palo Alto before year-end, moving a dozen attorneys who work there into its San Francisco office. The move, described by the firm’s management as “an operational decision,” comes just two years after Coudert closed its San Jose office and moved lawyers there to Palo Alto. “We’ve got people [in both offices] who are working with the same client base in Northern California and on our international matters,” said Jon Michaelson, manager partner of the Palo Alto office. “From an efficiency point of view � it seems that it is best to have them all sitting in one place.” Michaelson said the move doesn’t mean the firm, with 23 lawyers in Northern California, is abandoning Silicon Valley. The work is increasingly international, he said, and it matters less where it’s done. “I am sure that we’ll continue to have a physical presence in Silicon Valley, some kind of facility where we can continue to operate,” Michaelson said. Some in the business believe the markets in San Francisco and Silicon Valley are significantly different. “It would be difficult to maintain relationships” with venture capitalists, said legal recruiter Larry Watanabe, “without a presence in Silicon Valley.” Former Coudert partners recalled a time when the 650-attorney firm had as many as 50 or 60 lawyers in the three Northern California offices. But the firm began shedding partners in the dot-com bust. In 2001, the firm moved its San Francisco office to the historic Cannery building, near touristy Fisherman’s Wharf, a move firm officials later deemed a mistake. The firm relocated in 2002 to One Market, the former home of Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison, and has since added associates. But Michaelson acknowledged that the firm hasn’t attracted lateral partners. “The firm is struggling with defining itself in today’s legal world,” said David Schnapf, a partner who left Coudert two years ago for Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton. “It was the premier international firm, and it has fallen behind the pack.” He added that despite the firm’s storied reputation, the Bay Area offices weren’t well integrated with Coudert’s global network. “It was a local practice,” he said. Michaelson disputed that, and James Topinka, a partner in Coudert’s S.F. office, said the firm’s clients include Symantec Corp., 3Com Corp., VC firm Amadeus Capital Partners Ltd. and global concerns such as L’Oreal, Coca-Cola, General Motors and France’s Carre-Four. The New York-based firm has 29 offices in 18 countries. Last year, it named David Huebner, a 43-year-old partner in the Los Angeles office, as its chairman. Michaelson said all attorneys are being offered jobs in Palo Alto, but said he didn’t know how many lawyers and staff would relocate. “We’re hoping that everybody comes,” Michaelson said. Still, former Coudert partner Bruce McCubbrey, now of counsel with Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, was perplexed by the geographic retreat. “They got hit by the dot-bomb just like everybody else,” said McCubbrey. “When they consolidated Palo Alto and San Jose, that was a response to that. But why the move to San Francisco?”

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