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After 23 years in Morrison & Foerster’s San Francisco office, Chairman Keith Wetmore will pack his bags � and those of his Boston terrier “Chance” � for the Big Apple in January. Wetmore, who has been the firm’s chairman for five years and previously served as managing partner of the San Francisco office, was asked to make the move by firm managers as a means of signaling the importance of the New York office. “Over the course of the last couple months, we � thought about what we could do internally to support and deepen our practices in New York,” Wetmore said Tuesday. “It became clear that a firmwide presence [there] might be helpful.” His move comes as the distinction between where a firm does its work and where its leadership is based matters less. “The large, global law firms increasingly don’t have flagship offices, and many of the chairs that I know say their offices are in the sky,” said legal recruiter Avis Caravello. Wetmore said moving to New York also makes sense for him personally. “I clerked in New York 25 years ago, almost stayed back then,” he added. “I thought it would be a good time to help address those internal needs in a way that would be exciting for me to do.” MoFo, a 1,025-lawyer firm, entered the New York market about 15 years ago through a merger with litigation boutique Parker, Auspitz, Neesemann & Delehunty. The firm has been more successful than many other “out-of-towners” in New York, says recruiter Jonathan Lindsey of Major, Lindsey & Africa, in part because it wasn’t too reliant on corporate practices during the dot-com bust. “The people they have in New York are really first-rate,” Lindsey said Tuesday. “They had somebody picked up by Debevoise [& Plimpton] and somebody picked up by O’Melveny [& Myers].” MoFo’s largest office is San Francisco, which has 300 attorneys. But Wetmore said he wouldn’t mind if the New York office, with 150 lawyers, outgrew S.F. “It wouldn’t offend me if it were the first,” says Wetmore of the New York office, currently the second largest. New York is already the largest single office for several out-of-town firms, including Los Angeles’ Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker, Miami’s Greenberg Traurig and Cleveland’s Jones Day. Latham & Watkins has 310 in New York, 123 in San Francisco and 294 in Los Angeles. Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe has about 180 lawyers in each of its New York City and San Francisco offices. Wetmore says that like many other firm chairmen, he spends much of his time traveling to other offices. “I spent five days in San Francisco in November, and I purportedly live here,” he said. “Law firm chairs are not sedentary beasts.” Indeed, residence for chairmen is often symbolic. Robert Dell, the chairman of Latham & Watkins, has roots in Los Angeles and lives in San Francisco. Seth Zachary, the chairman of Los Angeles-based Paul, Hastings, lives in New York. “New York is the most important legal market for [Paul, Hastings], but it is not necessary that our chair be in New York to succeed,” said Managing Partner Greg Nitzkowski, who adds that past chairs have lived in L.A. and Stamford, Conn. Other chairmen spend so much time on the road that primary residence also takes on less importance. “There are plenty of convenient hotels near all the [firm's] offices that know me well,” says Kenneth Doran, managing partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. His primary residence is in Pacific Palisades, near Los Angeles. And Orrick Chairman Ralph Baxter Jr., who has a home in San Francisco as well as an apartment in Manhattan and houses in Napa and Wheeling, W. Va., also eschews the idea of “headquarters,” although he spends more time in the San Francisco office than in any other office. He doesn’t think it would matter if he moved. “People would care if Orrick somehow began to behave as though it weren’t a connected part of the business and civic community of San Francisco,” he said. Robert Townsend, who is on MoFo’s management committee in San Francisco, felt the symbolic importance of New York might be enough to give the firm an added boost. “We have Keith and two of our managing partners for operations on the West Coast,” said Townsend. “We thought that Keith being in New York would enhance our management and recruiting and practice development [there].” Townsend wasn’t worried about San Francisco lawyers losing out � and other lawyers agreed. “He is San Francisco at heart,” said a lawyer in MoFo’s S.F. office. “So I am not concerned that his physical presence in New York will lead him to forget our interests.” New York Law Journal reporter Anthony Lin contributed to this report.

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