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Chart: Partner classes over the last five years It was about 10 years ago that the Internet began hitting its stride as a mass communications medium: Netscape was going public, radio stations were coming on line, and the first spam was being e-mailed. It was also around that time that lawyers like Sue Krenek and Andrew Castricone were graduating from law school. Today, Internet law is keeping the practice challenging for lawyers like Krenek and Castricone, and in some cases helping propel them to their firm’s partnership. The challenge for Krenek, whose practice includes intellectual property and e-commerce, is advising clients without the benefit of clear-cut laws. The Internet is so new that regulation and case law remain a work in progress. “A lot of your practice involves educated guesswork about which way the law’s going to develop,” Krenek says. “There’s a fair amount of crystal ball involved in what we do.” That doesn’t bother her. Krenek says Web-related issues such as piracy, privacy and jurisdiction will keep her practice lively for some time to come. “My job is to keep up with all these very interesting developments and keep my clients one step ahead with what’s happening with the law and technology. And that’s just a great position to be in.” Castricone, a commercial litigator at Gordon & Rees who sees a lot of trademark and copyright issues, sums up one of his recent cases this way: “Who actually owned the Web page and had the rights to it?” The beginning of the year saw several California-based law firms announce their largest partnership classes ever. Latham & Watkins elevated 29 of its associates firm-wide, with a dozen of those in California. It’s a record-high number of promotions for the 1,500-lawyer firm. Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker set its own record when it named 14 new partners, with five of the 2005 class located in California. And San Francisco-based Gordon & Rees topped its previous numbers by elevating nine of its associates, all of them in its home state. Numbers like these showcase the rapid growth at some firms. They also reflect growth in the overall economy, according to some observers, who note that more activity in the market means greater opportunities for firms. Robert Hubbell, managing shareholder at Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe, said it’s more than coincidence that his firm’s latest crop of 14 new partners — “the highest number of shareholders that we’ve promoted in a single year from the associate rank” — comes at a time of increased opportunity in practices such as intellectual property, antitrust and real estate. “There are a number of sectors of the economy that have turned around very strongly over the last few years,” Hubbell said. “We’re seeing a tremendous amount of activity. So I really do think that is part of the reason.” The historic highs in elevations can reflect previous mergers. For example, Heller Ehrman merged with Venture Law Group in 2003, adding another 65 attorneys to the firm’s roster of about 600. The transaction put many new qualified associates — who’d been paying their dues at VLG — in line for promotion down the road at Heller Ehrman. A firm’s increased size, in turn, often leads to new opportunities for associates, aiding them on the road to partner. Hubbell points to Heller Ehrman’s expanding practice groups in hot markets such as New York, Washington and Silicon Valley creating opportunity for the firm’s associates. Devin Cuyler, a member of this year’s new class of partners at Pillsbury Winthrop, says a larger firm’s greater resources can be extremely helpful, especially in his practice. Cuyler has a tech-based transactional practice, specializing in outsourcing, which covers the health care, telecom and biotech industries. He says the ability to tap into Pillsbury’s international resources, and the sheer weight his firm carries, can make his job a lot easier. “There’s a general recognition that you need to be a global player,” Cuyler says. “I think that when I do these agreements and we have offices in different places, knowing I can call our Singapore office to help with these transactions is invaluable. � It’s very helpful to be a large firm.” Cuyler, who originally studied science and philosophy, came to his practice from the technical side. He now counts Stanford Hospital and Virgin Mobile among his big-ticket clients, and says a large amount of business awaits law firms willing to delve into tech-driven industries. “Often, the reason a company is acquired now is frequently for its core asset, which is technology,” he says. As for the hot topic of outsourcing, Cuyler says that “there are still some deals in India, but a lot of it is going on in China, Cambodia, Vietnam — Vietnam’s huge right now — and also Russia, Malaysia and Hong Kong.” Still, there’s evidence among the new crop of partners that not all firms think it’s necessary to span several continents to succeed. Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton announced a normal-sized crop of shareholders for 2005. That’s not to say Sheppard, Mullin isn’t growing — the firm claims 440 attorneys today, up from 290 four years ago — but it’s growing at a slower pace, without the catalyst of big-time mergers. “We had a very consistent growth plan, where we didn’t do it all overnight,” explains Managing Partner Guy Holgren. Heller Ehrman’s Hubbell applauds this approach, noting that “there are many, many benefits to adopting that model of growth,” such as properly training future shareholders, instilling the values of the institution, and maintaining longstanding relationships with clients. But Hubbell also believes a firm can benefit from more expansive, merger-driven growth, citing “a role for lateral growth � in order to reach the goals which we set for ourselves.” Heller Ehrman’s ambition, Hubbell added, is to maintain the growth the firm has seen over the last few years. “The trick, of course, is to do it in a measured, responsible way.” Don Frances is a San Francisco-based freelance writer.

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