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DLA PIPER’S new Atlanta office has added its first practice group – emerging companies and venture capital. DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary has lured Jeffrey M. Leavitt from Arnall Golden Gregory and Douglas R. Spear from Morris, Manning & Martin to lead the group. DLA Piper opened its Atlanta office three weeks ago with 12 lawyers from Hunton & Williams and Jones Day. Those lawyers, lead by local managing partner Mark E. Grantham, established core corporate and litigation practices for the new office. Cultivating startup companies is key to the firm’s overall strategy, said R.W. “Jay” Smith, who leads the firm’s U.S. corporate and securities practice, so an emerging companies practice is part of the portfolio in all of the firm’s major markets. (Smith recruited Leavitt and Spear.) “Our strategy is fairly simple. We want to be with companies when they first develop and then to be their counsel as they, hopefully, go through the process of an IPO and become bigger companies,” Smith said. He added that DLA Piper also has clients interested in investing in this market. “We would like to use our people to introduce them to those opportunities,” he said. The market for venture capital investment in startup technology companies has improved since the dot-com bust of 2001. Smith said DLA Piper closed 256 venture capital financings for technology and life sciences companies last year and that the firm has continued to see significant deal-flow this year. Leavitt, 34, and Spear, 32, worked together as associates at Morris, Manning & Martin several years ago. Spear joined that firm after graduating from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law in 1998. He said that in his career there he served as lead counsel on hundreds of venture financing deals for emerging technology companies. Leavitt’s career has been more peripatetic. He joined Davis Polk & Wardwell in New York after law school at the University of Pennsylvania, then left to serve as general counsel for Axiom Legal, an Internet software startup. From there he joined Morris Manning & Martin until becoming the first lawyer in the country selected for the Kauffman Fellows Program, a two-year training course for venture capitalists. During the fellowship, he spent his first year at Alliance Technology Ventures, an Atlanta venture capital firm, and the next year as general counsel for Orlando, Fla.-based Xytrans Inc., one of Alliance’s portfolio companies-which continues to be a client. After completing the fellowship, he joined Arnall Golden Gregory in December 2004. He was a partner there. “It was really such a compelling opportunity,” said Leavitt of his decision to leave Arnall Golden for DLA Piper. “That’s the story of my career-compelling opportunities that I have trouble resisting.” Grantham said tapping two lawyers in their early 30s to establish the office’s emerging companies practice was not as unusual as it might be in other areas. “This field is dominated by young people, both on the client or company side and on the consulting, financial and legal side. It’s a tribute to the experience and capabilities of both of them that we’ve decided they’re the right ones to head up the practice here in Atlanta,” he said, adding that he expects Leavitt and Spear will expand their team to six to eight lawyers. Grantham said other areas that his office is targeting are commercial real estate, banking, corporate M&A, securities, and labor and employment. Leavitt and Spear said they think DLA Piper can provide clients far more funding opportunities than an Atlanta firm could. The firm’s national reach, Leavitt said, means “we can get in front of VCs all over the country.” Spear explained that while Georgia startups receive significant investment from venture capitalists, there are not as many VC funds to draw on here as in other parts of the country. Spear said DLA Piper’s reach “will allow me to connect with West Coast funds and those in the Northeast corridor that people in Atlanta do not necessarily have consistent access to.” Lawyers with startup companies as clients often provide business and consulting services in addition to legal counsel. Smith said DLA Piper has taken that idea one step further with an in-house consultancy called Venture Pipeline that helps startup clients devise business plans and connect with the venture capital firms that are right for their type of business. He said the service maintains a database of the types of deals that different venture capital funds want to invest in. Smith said that even though DLA Piper is one of the largest law firms in the world, its services are affordable to small startups. The firm will at times defer or discount its rates for emerging companies, he said. “We will often make special fee arrangements to help nurture them along until they can pay higher rates,” he said. Staff Reporter Meredith Hobbs can be reached at [email protected]

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