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To build its white-collar defense presence on the West Coast, Chicago-based Winston & Strawn plans to recruit a partner from the San Francisco public defender’s office. Mart�n Sabelli said he is stepping down from his position as director of training for the office on March 1 in order to focus on the April trial of David Hill, a high-profile client facing life without parole for the alleged murder of a local police officer. After the trial, which he expects to last at least two months, Winston & Strawn plans to hire Sabelli as a litigation partner in San Francisco to do white-collar criminal defense and perhaps related securities litigation. “We have been talking to him, and we do intend to pursue bringing him on board,” said Charles Birenbaum, managing partner of the firm’s San Francisco office. But, he added, “We think it’s premature to finalize that because he has a responsibility to focus his attentions on the Hill case.” Winston & Strawn’s Bay Area office has grown considerably since 2003, when a merger gave the firm instant offices in San Francisco. The Bay Area office has since doubled in size, from about 25 lawyers to 51, Birenbaum said. And while the firm already has a national white-collar practice � which includes one of the country’s most sought-after attorneys, Chicago-based partner Dan Webb � it still doesn’t have any white-collar lawyers in San Francisco or Los Angeles. “It’s been a strong practice area for the firm nationally,” Birenbaum said. “And on the West Coast, we believe it’s an area we want to be able to service for our clients. “With Sarbanes-Oxley and with the post-Enron environment, [plus] other laws that provide for criminal penalties, we’ll see that area continue to grow,” Birenbaum predicted. “I think most firms will admit this is an area that they’re focused on right now,” said recruiter Larry Watanabe, a partner in California’s Watanabe Nason & Seltzer. And because there aren’t many existing partners with white-collar experience at major firms, he added, employers often have to seek talent elsewhere. In the past couple of years, several firms in the Bay Area have turned to former prosecutors to beef up their white-collar practices. Charles Fanning, the recruiter who matched Sabelli with Winston & Strawn, said he has been involved in some of those placements. And anecdotally, he said, it seems federal prosecutors are “much more typical” hires for white-collar positions. Fanning, who heads the partner placement practice at Major, Lindsey & Africa, said prosecutors seem more prone to move to big firms in general, while public defenders tend to strike out on their own or join boutiques. But he’s not sure why. Maybe, he speculates, it’s due to personality differences. Or maybe prosecutors’ caseloads are more compartmentalized, akin to firms’ specialized practice groups. Winston & Strawn typically hires law firm lawyers with an established practice � and occasionally prosecutors � for its white-collar work, Birenbaum said. But firm partners were impressed by Sabelli’s trial experience, familiarity with federal and state courts, and education, he added. The Yale University Law School graduate, 42, clerked for a federal judge and spent a year with a litigation firm before joining the federal public defender’s office in San Francisco in 1993. After about seven years, he moved into private criminal defense practice, where he once worked on a case with Jeff Adachi, who became the city’s public defender three years ago. Adachi then recruited Sabelli, who already taught for lawyer-education programs, to expand his office’s training efforts. “He was critical in laying the foundation for the [training] unit,” Adachi said, adding that he’d be sorry to see Sabelli go after three years. Craig Peters, a deputy public defender in the felony division, will take over Sabelli’s training position, Adachi added. Sabelli says he took the PD job with the understanding that he’d stay for two to four years. He had hoped to move next to a job that would let him defend “high-level cases.” “Winston has enormously talented lawyers, and they get enormously high-profile cases at a national level,” he said. While the firm’s resources and the caliber of cases are the main attraction to Sabelli, the higher pay scale in the private sector doesn’t hurt, either. “There’s no question about it,” said Sabelli, who recently moved to San Francisco from the East Bay. “The city’s financially brutal.”

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