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Leading Silicon Valley law firm Cooley Godward has agreed to merge with New York litigation boutique Kronish Lieb Weiner & Hellman, creating a national firm of 550 lawyers. The merger, which becomes effective Oct. 1, ends Palo Alto, Calif.-based Cooley’s long quest for a substantial New York presence. One of the iconic firms of the dot-com boom, 440-lawyer Cooley has sought over the past several years to reposition itself as a national, full-service firm. “We’ve been making a lot of interesting moves in recent years,” says Cooley Chairman Stephen Neal, “but we always knew we needed a strong New York presence to be a fully national firm.” Neal will remain chairman of the combined firm, which will be known as Cooley Godward Kronish. Kronish Lieb managing partner Alan Levine will head the firm’s New York office and serve on a newly created executive committee. Cooley also has offices in San Francisco; Washington; San Diego; Broomfield, Colo.; and Reston, Va. Though Cooley has made no secret of its merger ambitions, Kronish Lieb is something of a surprise partner. The 110-lawyer firm has long been regarded as one of the city’s most fiercely independent. But Levine says he and his partners realized it would be more difficult to carry on as a relatively small firm in a market increasingly dominated by giants. He says they were particularly concerned about ensuring a future for junior partners and associates at the firm. “Over the last several years it’s been obvious that a national firm offers a better platform,” he says, “especially for a young partner.” But Levine says that Kronish Lieb had never talked seriously with another firm before he sat down for dinner with Neal last year at Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse in Grand Central Terminal. He had approached that meeting skeptically, as well. “I’ve been going on blind dates for eight years,” says Levine. “It wasn’t out of the ordinary for us to meet. What was out of the ordinary is that this struck us as a perfect fit.” Among the attractions, he says, was that Cooley was willing to accept the whole firm. Levine notes that almost no lawyers had left either firm ahead of the merger, in contrast to other recent law firm combinations. He says both firms shared similarly collegial cultures. And he also notes an absence of conflicts of interest between the firms. The firms also have similar economics, with both looking at profits per partner for the year in the neighborhood of $1 million. In terms of practices, Cooley brings to the combined firm its leading technology and biotechnology transactional groups as well as considerable strength in litigation and intellectual property. The firm last year represented online auctioneer eBay in its $4 billion acquisition of Internet phone company Skype. Other major clients include computer video card maker Nvidia, drug developer Gilead Sciences, and utility Pacific Gas & Electric, for which Cooley served as bankruptcy counsel.Kronish Lieb is best known for its financial institutions litigation practice, led by Levine. The firm has represented Goldman Sachs, Sumitomo Corp., and Republic Bank of New York in major litigations, occasionally against other financial institutions.The firm is also known for its bankruptcy practice, which represented Enron Corp. employees in the company’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy, as well as tax, real estate, and white-collar criminal defense. NEW YORK STATE OF MIND The combined firm will have a litigation group of almost 250 lawyers. Neal and Levine say the firms have already worked together well on matters and see further opportunities to do so. For Cooley, a merger with a New York firm has been a long time coming. Cooley had previously explored mergers with, among others, private equity boutique O’Sullivan, which merged with Los Angeles’ O’Melveny & Myers in 2003, and intellectual property boutique Pennie & Edmonds, most of whose lawyers joined Jones Day in a 2004 deal. The firm also considered mergers with some much larger firms. But Neal says that Cooley had given up on the idea of a “big bang” deal with a larger firm several months before talks began with Kronish Lieb. The firm used the breather to open an office in the District last September. The merger should boost Cooley’s efforts to beef up that 26-attorney office, says Joseph Conroy, the partner in charge of Cooley’s D.C. and Reston offices. “Just judging from the phone calls I have received in the last 24 hours,” Conroy says, “I have a high degree of confidence that just being in New York is going to make a lot more people interested in talking to us in D.C.” Conroy explains that a number of lateral partners whom Cooley had approached to join its D.C. office had been hesitant to join a firm without a New York practice. Kronish’s financial services and white-collar practices will help Cooley recruit securities enforcement and government contracts practitioners, he predicts. EXPAND BEYOND TECHNOLOGY Cooley’s eastward movement is part of a strategy of expanding beyond the firm’s traditional roots in the technology sector. Neal says the firm had gone a long way in that direction but acknowledges that the perception in many cases had not caught up with reality. But that may be because Cooley was a dominant technology firm at a time when such firms seemed to dominate the profession. Along with longtime rival Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich & Rosati and now-defunct Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison, Cooley was one of the top firms handling the initial public offerings, venture capital investments, and other major transactions that drove the late 1990s technology boom. For a few brief years, such firms stole the limelight from Wall Street, drawing top law school graduates west and sending elite New York firms scrambling to meet surging Silicon Valley salaries. In the ensuing downturn, several Silicon Valley firms merged with larger firms. San Francisco-based Brobeck closed its doors at the beginning of 2003. But Cooley, as well as Wilson Sonsini, survived and is now experiencing a somewhat less frenzied tech resurgence. Neal says that Cooley is committed to remaining a pre-eminent firm in the technology arena but that the firm wanted to leverage its transactional experience outside of Silicon Valley. Along with litigation and IP, he says, the combined firm would target private equity and mergers and acquisition for growth in New York. “This is a New York-magnitude practice,” he says of Cooley’s corporate practice. “These are New York-caliber lawyers.”
Anthony Lin is a reporter for the New York Law Journal , an ALM publication. Legal Times reporter Alexia Garamfalvi contributed to this article.

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