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When Scansoft Inc. Acquired Nuance Communications Inc. in a $221 million deal in May, Fenwick & West, Nuance’s corporate counsel, kissed another blue-chip technology client goodbye. But if the past is any indication, not for long: Nuance’s former president and CEO, Charles Berger, has brought in Fenwick as board counsel for each of four start-ups he has nurtured and sold over the last decade. He met the firm-and its chairman and deal wizard, Gordon Davidson-back in the 1980s, while he was at Apple Computer Inc., and he’s unlikely to change firms when he moves on to his next post. “Whatever it is, it’s likely I will bring Fenwick & West into that situation as well,” Berger said. Fenwick isn’t exactly a household name outside Silicon Valley. But it does have a set of extremely loyal clients and has done what few firms in its market have been able to do in the post-boom years: substantially increase profits. Last year alone, profits per partner at the firm hit $935,000, up from $635,000 on the power of a rate increase, an upsurge in transactional work, savings on a lease, and a reduction in the number of equity partners at the firm. Staying in the Valley Unlike its rivals, however, Fenwick professes to have few ambitions beyond Silicon Valley. The firm has cleaved to its high-tech roots and maintained its broad menu of corporate, litigation, intellectual property, employment and tax services. In the last few years, it has closed an office in Washington, rid itself of an expensive Palo Alto lease for a cheaper one in nearby Mountain View, Calif., and slimmed down its lawyer corps from 301 to a current 246. As the economy began to uptick in 2003, it raised its rates and worked lawyers harder rather than hiring new ones. (Revenue per lawyer increased from $590,000 to $680,000 last year.) Relying upon its close relationships to top management teams, venture capital firms and a few gold-plated tech clients, the firm posted revenues that were up 14% in 2004. Naturally, not everything is rosy. It’s unclear whether Fenwick can keep up the growth, in part because of problems with its litigation practice. A giant suit by Compuware Corp. against International Business Machines Corp. kept 30 Fenwick lawyers busy for three years. But the case settled in March for $40 million, and the partner who led the team, Daniel Johnson Jr., has since left for Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. Johnson isn’t the first to jump: Since 2001, Fenwick has lost five senior litigators and several associates. Though the firm still has 77 litigators on staff, competitors question the depth of the firm’s bench. And top partners inside Fenwick acknowledge that filling the void left by the Compuware litigation won’t be easy.

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