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LOS ANGELES � Hunton & Williams is now the latest firm to try its hand at the Los Angeles legal market, following a string of out-of-towners who set up shop in Southern California this year. The Richmond, Va., firm is launching its downtown office by swallowing the majority of what was formerly trial boutique O’Donnell & Mortimer, a union spurred by shared client Pfizer Inc. “You cannot be a truly national firm unless you have a significant presence in California,” Managing Partner Walfrido Martinez said. “Our hope is to build a strong presence in California, starting in Los Angeles and hopefully moving up the state.” A series of firms have established themselves in the Los Angeles area this year, including Goodwin Procter, Venable, McGuire Woods, and Steptoe & Johnson. And they’re all trying to carve out a niche in a region that some say is saturated with law firms. “There is an absolute glut of law firms with offices in Southern California chasing the same desirable candidates,” said legal recruiter L. William Nason. “It’s extraordinarily tough if you don’t have a compelling client need.” The latest influx of firms into Los Angeles has largely been a group of major firms that have middle-tier profitability, Nason said. That’s mostly because it’s harder for high-profit-driven firms to find work that commands New York billing rates in Los Angeles. Goodwin Procter’s profits per partner are roughly $1.2 million, for example; Steptoe stands at $855,000 and Hunton clocks in at only $670,000. O’Melveny and Myers boasts profits per partner of $1.6 million. Hunton’s clients include Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Cingular, MasterCard and DTW Energy. O’Donnell & Mortimer’s clients include Conoco Phillips, Lockheed Martin and Pfizer. The Los Angeles office marks the 850-lawyer firm’s 18th office, including several international outposts. O’Donnell is bringing eight attorneys who will probably be joined with other Hunton lawyers. Hunton plans to expand its Los Angeles office significantly in the next three years, growing up to 75 lawyers, depending on client need, Martinez said. They’ll start off with a focus on product liability, environmental law and intellectual property, and expand their energy as well as labor and employment practices. “L.A. is a very competitive market, and the only way to compete is to produce the highest-quality work possible,” Martinez said. “We want to compete on a practice basis with the best and long-standing California firms.” But established Los Angeles firms with national and international aspirations don’t see this year’s newcomers as competition. “We see our competitors in L.A. as being law firms that have global ambitions similar to our own,” said Gregory Nitzkowski, the managing partner for Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker. “Latham, Gibson, O’Melveny and Skadden, Arps: From our perspective, that’s the universe in L.A. that matters in our market.” Ann Marie Mortimer, Hunton’s managing partner in Los Angeles, said she’s not daunted by the Los Angeles competition. She’s eager to combine her group of established local lawyers with a national platform, she said. “For 10 years, my firm has thrived in a valley of giants,” Mortimer said. “I think we’re prepared to go shoulder to shoulder or toe to toe with any law firm in the city.”

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