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Washington, D.C., firm Venable is the latest to try its hand at the Los Angeles market with a merger combining two litigation boutiques into a 20-lawyer Century City outpost. The firm will conjoin Century City’s Gorry Meyer & Rudd and Whitwell Jacoby Emhoff of Beverly Hills, both 10-lawyer litigation boutiques. The move is the first step in a plan for West Coast expansion that could bring that office to 70 lawyers in the next several years, said Venable’s managing partner, Karl Racine. “L.A. is a tough market, there’s no doubt about it � we canvassed it pretty well,” Racine said. “As it turns out, we were directed to these two firms by clients, and client referral is very important.” Venable, which expanded to New York last year, aggressively began seeking a Los Angeles merging partner about a year ago. A West Coast office is an important part of the firm’s expanding national profile, Racine said. Both Los Angeles firms said they weren’t looking for a merger partner when Venable Chairman James Shea proposed the concept. Whitwell Jacoby had fielded merger calls for several years, following its creation in 2000, but this time the timing � and the firm � just fit, said partner Douglas Emhoff. Emhoff had left Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman for the smaller boutique feel. Still, “In the back of my mind I thought perhaps one day I’d return to the world of large firms,” he said. Integration with Gorry Meyer should be smooth considering the two firms have many connections already, lawyers from both firms said. Emhoff, David Meyer and Timothy Gorry attended the University of Southern California Law School together, and many lawyers already know each other professionally or socially. Partners at both boutiques said that working for a 500-lawyer firm won’t be too jarring since many of them have worked in larger firms before. Being the first West Coast office for Venable was attractive to Meyer, who said he’s eager to help with the expansion here. The firm is looking to beef up its corporate work, litigation and intellectual property practice areas. “It’s very exciting because of the business opportunity we get with a national platform,” he said. “We’re able to cross market and get additional work from clients that are national in operation.” Billing rates can be a sticking point when a smaller firm folds into a national one, said legal consultant Robert Fortunato. If rates are driven up, that can result in tensions for attorneys whose clients may find a bigger firm’s rates untenable. But this merger isn’t going to result in any billing rate increases and both firms are bringing all their clients along, lawyers at the firms said. “That was a huge issue for us,” Meyer said. “We wanted to maintain clientele and not drive them away with a huge increase in rates.” Attorneys from both firms will work out of the Gorry Meyer Century City office, and several Venable lawyers with California business will be heading west for at least part of each month. While the two boutiques’ previous connections may give them a jump start on integration, Emhoff acknowledged it will be difficult to move from Beverly Hills to Century City. “Beverly Hills has more of a small-town feel,” Emhoff said. “We’re definitely a fabric of the community there, so that will be a change.” Meyer said he’s optimistic about the synergies of the three firms. The dynamics and the clientele all seem to fit well, he said. And, he added, it helps that the lawyers are a young group, with all of the partners in their early 40s. “We aren’t so mature that we don’t have fire in our bellies anymore,” he said.

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