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LOS ANGELES-At a time when most large firms are shedding their trust and estate practices, Luce, Forward, Hamilton & Scripps has quickly assembled the largest trust and estate practice group on the West Coast. In the past five months, 17 lawyers have joined San Diego-based Luce Forward’s trust and estate practice group, which now numbers almost 30. The firm’s focus on trust and estate law comes as many large firms have closed their own practices, often due to lower billing rates. It also comes as Luce Forward is building out its California offices to become a prominent regional firm on the West Coast. “Before, it would have been a firm I would consider,” said Charlotte Ito, a partner in the firm’s San Francisco office who joined earlier this month from Steefel, Levitt & Weiss. “Now, it’s become an all-star team.” Founded in 1873, Luce Forward has nearly 200 lawyers in five California offices. Expansion so as to become a regional powerhouse has been a main focus of the firm since about a dozen lawyers left in 2003 to open a San Diego office for Philadelphia-based Duane Morris, said Robert Bell, managing partner of the firm. After the departures, the firm’s revenue slid 7% but regained footing last year to reach $94 million. “Our firm needed to consolidate and take stock of where we were,” he said. He said a trust and estate practice group complements the firm’s business litigation and real estate work. In March, 10 lawyers from Holland & Knight joined Luce Forward, led by Bruce Ross, former executive partner of the Los Angeles office. Ross became partner-in-charge of Luce Forward’s Los Angeles office. The following month, another five lawyers from Holland & Knight joined Luce. Holland & Knight’s David Sloan, vice chairman of the business department, said the departures have not affected his firm’s trust and estate practice, which still has more than 80 lawyers nationwide. In July, two more lawyers joined Luce: Ito and Louis Mezzullo, previously of Richmond, Va.’s McGuireWoods. Luce also renamed its trust and estate group the family-wealth and exempt-organizations practice area. “We were fortunate in culminating these acquisitions on a timely basis all at once,” said Frederick Vandeveer, partner and chairman of Luce’s family-wealth and exempt-organizations group. “They built upon one another.”

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