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In 2000, Boston-based Fish & Richardson decided to swim against the tide. The 350-lawyer intellectual property specialty firm launched a corporate group to diversify and feed its patent litigation and prosecution practice. For years, general practice firms have been trying to get into the hot IP litigation market, so it was odd to see an IP specialist go after corporate work. But six years later, the effort appears to be floundering. In June, the firm’s San Diego office lost its entire corporate practice to Boston rival Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo. And in Silicon Valley, the corporate group has just three attorneys. Yet the firm is still vigorously pursuing the idea. Earlier this year, the Silicon Valley office brought in Richard Horning from corporate boutique Tomlinson Zisko. Horning was the head of the Palo Alto firm’s emerging technologies and international practice group. And Fish & Richardson is opening new offices in other markets and aggressively recruiting corporate attorneys to fill them. In July, the firm hooked eight new attorneys from the Austin office of Andrews Kurth to staff the corporate group in its newly opened Texas location. And “serious discussions” are in the works, according to firm management, to recruit more corporate attorneys around Boston. Firmwide, Fish & Richardson now has 21 corporate lawyers. “We’re really committed to this. We’re not out to build a general practice firm, but we want to form a firm that’s unique and can offer top-of-the-line corporate and commercial litigation services to our clients,” said Peter Devlin, the firm president. Fish & Richardson is not the only firm that wants to use a corporate practice to better serve � and attract � IP clients. In Silicon Valley, IP litigation powerhouses such as Chicago’s McDermott, Will & Emery and New York’s Weil, Gotshal & Manges have been trying for years to use their success in landing high-stakes IP litigation to net big corporate transactions locally. But the two outposts are still in growth mode and have yet to become big enough to seriously pose a threat to well-known Valley corporate firms. “On the outside looking in, it can appear to be a synergistic and logical move, but it is not an easy thing to do,” said legal recruiter Larry Watanabe. It is not easy to reel in those corporate deals without enough corporate attorneys on board. “Corporate lawyers typically like to go to firms where there’s already infrastructure,” Watanabe said. “Very few corporate lawyers with big books of business want to pioneer the effort to build a practice from scratch.” But for an IP boutique, it can be a profitable effort, because most corporate transactions these days are driven by intellectual property assets. IP attorneys now play prominent roles in mergers and acquisitions, joint ventures, asset evaluations, tax deals, bankruptcy and litigation involving billion-dollar companies. So can it be done? Sure, Watanabe says, but it will require commitment and long-term investment. “The firm has to assume some risks, they may not get the A-list corporate players, so they may have to bring younger corporate partners who are extremely entrepreneurial,” he said. Big Fish in a small pond So far, Fish & Richardson appears to be willing to take those risks. Devlin said the firm’s objective is still the same but it is changing its course a bit and lowering expectations. The firm had wanted to cross-sell its fledgling corporate practice to its roster of patent litigation and prosecution clients, which includes Microsoft Corp., Google Inc., Intel Corp. and 3M Co. It touted a full-service practice that could handle anything from an IPO to M&A. But the longtime clients who entrust their bet-the-company patent litigation to Fish & Richardson have similarly entrenched relationships with their corporate attorneys. “It’s been difficult to pitch to bigger clients because everybody thinks their projects are going to suck up huge amounts of [our] human resources,” said Roger Feldman, the firm’s top corporate partner. Today, the group is focusing on technology startups and pitching less lucrative corporate work such as technology licensing deals, venture financing and IP due diligence and counseling work. Its recent hires also reflect course correction. In January, the firm hired New York attorney Lori Hoberman, a former corporate partner at Brown Raysman with close ties to venture capitalists, to co-chair the corporate practice. Horning, who joined Fish & Richardson in February, echoes the firm’s diminished ambitions. He said he’s not looking into building a practice that would compete with Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati. “It’s going to be a number of years before we’re contending with Mr. Sonsini, but we certainly can go head to head with other firms in servicing young technology companies,” Horning said. Hoberman said the firm’s idea for growth is to grow with its clients. “When our clients become big, then we’ll have a bigger corporate practice so we can do larger M&A transactions or big IPOs,” Hoberman said. “We will outgrow this stage.” Small Fish in a big pond But sometimes clients grow far more quickly than the firm, and that’s what Eddie Rodriguez experienced. The former head of Fish & Richardson’s corporate practice, Rodriguez moved to Mintz, Levin in June to open the Boston firm’s San Diego office. After nearly four years of working at Fish & Richardson, he said he was forced to leave his practice because his clients have outgrown the platform. “We were very successful there, but one thing we discovered is that while we can represent smaller, emerging companies, once they grow and get funded, they need more ancillary services,” Rodriguez said. “We lost as many companies as we got because once they get funded the investors would say they need to go to a bigger firm with a bigger corporate practice.” Some corporate partners also doubt how long the firm will support a practice that does not generate as much revenue as litigation and prosecution. “You have the top IP litigation group in the country firing at all cylinders and in the meantime there’s us, struggling to build a corporate practice,” Rodriguez said. “At some point the firm is going to be under a lot of pressure from other partners asking when the investment is going to pay off.” Devlin, however, brushes aside any doubts about the firm’s commitment to the practice. “There are always skeptics, but we’ve proven before that an IP firm can expand nationally, and by choosing the right people with energy and common vision, I think we can pull it off,” Devlin said.

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