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One month after DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary lost its media chairman and another partner, media defense attorney James Chadwick has made a similar break, this time for the San Francisco office of Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton. “Sheppard, Mullin has an existing media law practice, and I know and respect the people who are part of it,” said Chadwick, adding that he will bring most of his DLA clients with him when he joins the 477-lawyer firm’s entertainment, media and communications practice group. Over the past decade or so, the media law practice has been edging over from large firms into the middle market. Chadwick and other lawyers in the industry cite the high and inflexible billing rates at big firms as one reason the traditional media law practice has moved to smaller shops. “It’s not a great economic climate for media clients. There’s more pressure on rates,” he said, adding that he sees the practice now mainly concentrated in mid-sized firms. Neil Shapiro, a former media attorney at Bingham McCutchen who left to found his own firm in Monterey when rates at Bingham soared after a 2002 merger, agreed. “It’s like what they say about premium gas: If you don’t need it, don’t pay for it, and [media clients] try not to,” he said. “The real crunch comes when a lawyer they know and like goes to a place that makes them charge too much. I think that’s one reason that media lawyers that get snapped up by giant firms leave.” In April, former DLA Piper media head Roger Myers and partner Rachel Matteo-Boehm took their practice to 250-lawyer Holme Roberts & Owen, where they said they found an opportunity to grow their business. “We were looking for a place that wanted to build a media and IP practice,” Myers said at the time. “[Holme was] willing to put resources behind the practice.” Karl Olson, who represents The Recorder and left Cooper, White & Cooper to found his own firm, Levy, Ram & Olson, said in an earlier interview that many companies, newspapers in particular, are unwilling to pay big-firm rates for the day-to-day work, such as editorial content review, but are still likely to use the big firms for “multibillion-dollar deals.” For the firms that take on media defense lawyers, it is more likely than not to augment a thriving entertainment or communications practice. Sheppard, Mullin has been on a national expansion streak, bulking up its media defense group from 16 in 2003 to more than 50 today. “If you’re committed to the entertainment, media and communications space more broadly, then you’ll want a top-notch media defense practice as a component of that group,” said the group’s co-chairman, Martin Katz. The firm is also looking to broaden its sports and music groups, he said.

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