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Thelen Reid & Priest San Francisco partner Stephen O’Neal steps into the chairman’s job Friday, shifting the firm’s power center from New York. “This is a big deal,” said legal recruiter Larry Watanabe. “They haven’t had anybody from California as the firm’s chairman since Rich Gary [in 2003].” O’Neal, who has headed Thelen’s core construction practice for the past 10 years, has long been involved in the firm’s administration. Always with an eye to the firm’s future, he helped forge the joint venture with the British law firm that resulted in the formation of U.K.-based Masons Thelen Reid. Five years ago, he developed an Internet portal for the construction industry — a sort of one-stop shop for the $3.2 billion industry, all sponsored by Thelen. O’Neal says it’s a great marketing tool, with links to 6,000 industry sites and north of 6 million users. “It’s cool. It’s really cool,” says O’Neal. “In a career you do a few things that you are proud of, and this is a service to an industry that we hold very dear.” O’Neal’s election was uncontested, but two New York partners — David Graybeal, chairman of the firm’s commercial litigation practice, and Michael Elkin, who heads Thelen’s business practice — are vying for the vice chairmanship. Votes for that contest, which Graybeal says is “between friends,” will be counted Thursday. “They are both longtime, highly respected and very popular partners,” said O’Neal. O’Neal said both New York partners were already on the firm’s compensation committee and the partnership council, and added that both would be on the firm’s executive committee starting April 1. O’Neal replaces Thomas Igoe Jr., a New York-based corporate securities and finance lawyer and the former chairman of New York’s Reid & Priest, who has been in office for two years. Igoe’s predecessor, Richard Gary, did not seek re-election in March 2003 following an 11-year term. He left the firm and now runs his own consulting practice. In a close election against San Francisco partner Charles Birenbaum, Igoe lobbied for conservative growth and won by a single vote. Birenbaum, who ran on a platform of aggressive marketing to new clients and lateral candidates, moved on to Winston & Strawn. O’Neal said Igoe’s leadership was successful and that he was stepping down for “personal reasons.” Igoe, who previously served as Thelen’s vice chairman for five years, didn’t return calls seeking comment. Graybeal said it wasn’t significant that the two vice-chair candidates are from New York. “We self-nominate,” Graybeal said. “We are two partners who care about Thelen and want to see it succeed.” And he added, “Steve is the chair; he will set the agenda.” Over the last two years, O’Neal said, the firm has increased revenue and net income about 15 percent. Its 2003 revenues put it in 78th place on last year’s AmLaw 100 list, up from 81st the year before. O’Neal said the firm has picked up 10 lateral partners in the last year from such firms as Dewey Ballantine, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius and Seyfarth Shaw. “We want to continue to grow in an aggressive way and to be a bigger, better Thelen Reid & Priest,” O’Neal said. He emphasized it was important “that we retain our culture that has bound us all these years and that we value very highly.”

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