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Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll has opened a new office in Las Vegas effective Monday with the addition of three new partners. While Ballard Spahr Chairman Arthur Makadon has said he wants to grow it to a 50-person office, some familiar with the Las Vegas market cautioned that out-of-town firms might have a difficult time expanding. William P. Curran and Stanley W. Parry, name partners of Curran & Parry, will join along with partner Josh Reisman, of counsel Susan Johnson and associate Maren Parry. Curran will serve as the Las Vegas office managing partner and said that there will be six attorneys in total joining Ballard Spahr. “Growth in the West and expansion into the Las Vegas market have been two of Ballard’s top strategic priorities for a number of years,” Makadon said in a statement. “Las Vegas is a market where local knowledge is critical, and we believe we have a group of the most knowledgeable, well-known and highly regarded attorneys in the state joining us through this transaction.” According to Makadon, finding the right firm to help open the new office was the biggest challenge. He said in an interview that Ballard Spahr had been looking to get into the Las Vegas market for a few years and was working with Curran & Parry for four to five months. “The competition is very, very fierce for this particular firm,” he said. Curran said that his firm had a lot of offers from national firms but said that Ballard Spahr’s expansion plan for the Southwest was a particular draw. The firm has shown interest in the past in the Phoenix area. “Their expansion westward is kind of a Lewis and Clark-type approach,” Frank D’Amore of Attorney Career Catalysts said, and added that most firms start their expansion into the West via California and then move back eastward. The Las Vegas office will focus on five areas to start: resort, hotels and gaming; real estate development including land use and zoning; public finance; business and finance; and litigation. Curran said that some of the practice areas that overlap between the two firms include government finance work in terms of real estate and bond issues. He said his firm was somewhat overwhelmed with litigation and transactional work and is looking forward to the additional resources of Ballard Spahr. “It’s a critical site, I think, in the national economy right now,” Makadon said. The firm’s real estate and corporate departments are two of its strongest areas, he said, and are also areas that are thriving in Nevada. D’Amore said Ballard Spahr’s approach has been different from many other firms in that it moves incrementally and build substantial offices. He said it makes sense from a business perspective. The admittedly difficult goal for the new office, Makadon said, is to grow it to around 50 lawyers within the next two years. He said the firm could use the resources of its Salt Lake City and Denver offices to help with the real estate and resort practices for the time being. “I don’t think they can do it,” Jordan Ross of Ross Legal Search in Nevada said, adding that Ballard Spahr would have to focus on more high-volume work if it wants to achieve that head count. “I would have to see what a typical partner’s agreement looks like.” Ross said that the Nevada legal climate has drastically changed over the last year and a half because of two rule changes made by the state Supreme Court. The first change was made in late 2004 and did away with Rule 199, which mandated firms have one of their name partners licensed in Nevada. The state was also one of the last to make it easier for attorneys to switch firms. “We’ve basically seen rivers of blood flowing through the streets of Las Vegas,” Ross said of the large number of defections. He said some of the larger firms in town have lost millions of dollars in revenue because of the defections of big-name attorneys. Although the attorneys may be quick to leave, it is only for a good deal, Ross said, pointing out that Las Vegas attorneys don’t want to be dictated to from large out-of-state firms. “There is a certain cowboy capitalism in the business culture of Nevada in general,” he said. “This is a town of quite a number of entrepreneurs.” Ross said that mentality has made relationships the biggest driver to success in Las Vegas, more so than in many other legal markets. “It’s Vegas, baby,” he said. “There’s nothing like it.” Curran said that as more corporations enter the growing Nevada economy and as current clients grow, the firm will grow along with it. Michael Coleman of Coleman Legal Search said that the new office is consistent with the plans that Ballard Spahr has been publicly commenting about for some time. “[Las Vegas] would be a very exciting place just given the tremendous growth of this county,” he said. According to Coleman, Ballard Spahr is one of the first firms from the eastern half of the country to open an office in Sin City. It’s taking a “creative, innovative leadership role,” Coleman said. “Other people may follow.” Duane Morris acquired a Las Vegas office through its merger with California-based Hancock Rothert & Bunshoft. Firm Chairman Sheldon Bonovitz said there is a reason why there are so few national firms in the city. “The challenge is to find practice areas where the billable rates are comparable to the billable rates firmwide,” he said, adding that rates are generally “significantly lower” in Las Vegas. “Our office will only grow if it can grow with work that fits into our national practice,” he said. Ross said that there are not many high-productivity firms in Las Vegas in terms of the expected number of billable hours. Bonovitz said practice areas that could sustain themselves in the Nevada marketplace would include complex commercial and construction litigation and intellectual property work. According to Ross, the gaming industry drives the economy in Nevada but the real estate industry often drives most of the legal work. He said firms like DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary that found a niche in the market have found one of the only ways to succeed in the Las Vegas legal community. Ross said the firm has focused on real estate leasing and now controls an estimated 60 percent of that work in the city. Out-of-town firms that have been the most successful in Las Vegas, according to Ross, have been large regional firms as opposed to national firms. He said they are more nimble in their agreements and tend to offer better deals. Most of those firms have come from the Phoenix area, he said. When asked how Ballard Spahr is viewed on that scale, Ross said it is an “out-of-state East Coast firm.” Curran & Parry was born mainly out of a construction practice, Ross said, and evolved into a real estate firm as well. He said the firm marketed itself as one that does just about everything. Curran served as chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission from 1991 to 1999 and is a former president of the state bar of Nevada. Stanley Parry served as a trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice Organized Crime Strike Force from 1983 to 1989. Ballard now has eight U.S. offices, including the three offices in the western United States.

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