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San Francisco—Applied Materials Inc.’s legal department was in a bit of a bind. One of its corporate attorneys was scheduled to go on maternity leave during an unusually hectic time for the department. So Applied called its outside counsel, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, and asked if the firm could spare a lawyer. Gary Weiss, managing partner of Orrick’s Menlo Park, Calif., office, asked sixth-year associate Hsinya Shen if she’d like to go in-house for four months. She jumped at the chance. During her stint, which ran through February, she helped Applied put together its proxy statement and finalize its annual report and 10-K filing. “It was a fantastic experience,” Shen said. “I’ve gained an appreciation for the pressure they work under.” ‘Secondment’ to the Brits Many large firms routinely loan associates, and sometimes partners, to their clients. The practice—dubbed secondment, after a British military term for temporarily transferring someone from one regiment to another—has been going on at many large firms for years. But it’s attracted little public attention since firms don’t publicize the practice. Law firms, in-house counsel and the lawyers who get loaned out all say it’s an invaluable way for firms to better understand their clients and bolster their relationships. “A person on the inside gets to know the company in a more substantive way,” said Mark Brazeal, deputy general counsel at Broadcom Corp., which has twice borrowed attorneys from outside counsel. “When they return to the firm, they tend to be more efficient and to give better advice.” Loaning out lawyers can also have another benefit: bringing in new business. Orrick recently snagged department-store chain Mervyn’s as a client when it offered to lend out partner William Sawyers to serve as the company’s interim general counsel. Mervyn’s became an independent company a few months ago when Target Corp. sold it to a group of investors. It had relied on Target’s legal department, but after the sale it needed lawyers to fill in the gap. The company held a beauty contest with a few San Francisco Bay Area law firms to choose an outside counsel. Orrick offered to send Sawyers-who had been general counsel of Del Monte Foods Co. before joining Orrick-in-house until Mervyn’s got its bearings. “We agreed on a flat fee deal for my time and additional services,” said Sawyers, who took on the temporary post in September. Offering to go in-house, he adds, “probably made the difference in Mervyn’s picking our firm.” Rees Morrison, a consultant at Hildebrandt International Inc., said the practice of temporarily embedding associates inside corporate law departments has been routine in the United Kingdom for decades but occurs much less frequently in the United States. Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati of Palo Alto, Calif., began loaning its lawyers to clients more than 15 years ago. It has sent associates to clients such as Hewlett-Packard Co., Apple Computer Inc., Google Inc. and Sun Microsystems Inc. Donna Petkanics, Wilson Sonsini’s managing director of operations, said the firm currently has about five associates on loan. Orrick also has been lending out lawyers since the 1980s, and has one lawyer on assignment with a client nearly all the time. Fenwick & West of Mountain View, Calif., has been lending out at least one lawyer annually for several years. And Morrison & Foerster has an exchange program with several Japanese companies in which associates are dispatched for in-house stints while the firm, in turn, hosts Japanese lawyers. Morrison also has one or two associates in-house with U.S. clients at any given time. “We were a little more aggressive in creating these opportunities during the recession,” said Keith Wetmore, Morrison’s chairman, who had his own in-house experience when the firm lent him to Crocker Bank in 1983. For other local firms, lending out their lawyers is a fairly new practice. Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe first lent out a lawyer several years ago, but Robert Hubbell, the firm’s managing partner, said that the firm has done so on a regular basis only in the last two years. Secondment does carry potential drawbacks. Firms tend to lend out their best lawyers and, as a result, have to do without them for other matters. They also face the risk that the lawyer will choose to stay with the client. For their part, companies may pay more to borrow a lawyer than they would if the attorney were on their payroll.

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