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LOS ANGELES � When Karl Racine, the managing partner of Venable, set about opening a Los Angeles office earlier this year, one thing was certain: It had to be on the Westside. “In meeting with clients and talking to lawyers, it was clear the activity was moving west,” he said. “I would say 95 percent of the lawyers we spoke with about coming over were adamant about not being downtown.” Washington, D.C.-based Venable isn’t the only newcomer to plant its stake on the Westside. At least four of the out-of-town Am Law 100 firms announcing moves into the L.A. market this year opted to skip the button-down downtown for the energy � and convenience � of offices in Century City or Santa Monica. The only newcomer to choose downtown was Richmond, Va.’s Hunton & Williams. In an increasingly competitive market for laterals, many law firm leaders say it’s important to offer key recruits an often-shorter commute to what some refer to as a “lifestyle” office. The Westside “is considered to have more cachet,” said Stephen Bay, executive vice president of CB Richard Ellis, who works with law firm leases. “More of the decision makers live in places like Malibu, Bel Air and the Pacific Palisades and they don’t want to drive downtown.” Driven by desirability and a shortage of space, rents for Century City buildings approach $50 a square foot, well above the $33 average downtown. But perhaps the hottest spot is Santa Monica’s Water Garden � a building that houses Alschuler Grossman Stein & Kahan, Greenberg Traurig, and Perkins Coie and goes for upward of $50 a square foot per year, Bay said. “Santa Monica is as prestigious as any space in the world � there’s a lot of credibility to it now,” said Stanton “Larry” Stein, an Alschuler partner who said he fought to have the soon-to-splinter firm relocate from Century City to Santa Monica several years ago. “It’s really become the hub of the entertainment community and it’s an amazing location.” Stein said the campus-like setting of lakes, ducks, seagulls and bridges is enough to calm even the most harried lawyers. Even though space is coveted there, Stein managed to secure the 5th and 6th floor for the Los Angeles outpost of the Dreier firm, a group he’s planning to start up early next year. For many of this year’s L.A. newcomers, it was easier to entice laterals with a Westside office, they said. “We were able to attract very good lawyers that we otherwise wouldn’t get if we limited our search to people willing to go downtown,” said Roger Warin, the chairman of Steptoe & Johnson, which opened in Century City this year. Steptoe also brought in a handful of lateral hires from Alschuler Grossman to the new office. “They didn’t love us 3.5 to 4 hours worth a day,” Warin said, referring to the time he estimates they would have spent in traffic had the firm been located downtown. Douglas Emhoff said he was drawn to Venable’s Westside office by the clients, culture and commute. Even though there’s an “ongoing urban renewal” in downtown Los Angeles, there is much more going on in the Westside, making it easier to meet clients for dinner after work, said Emhoff, who worked in Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman’s downtown office for eight years. But not all the traffic is one way. Over the summer, Pillsbury consolidated operations downtown and handed over its Westside space to Goodwin Procter, another of the year’s newcomers. At the time, incoming Pillsbury Chairman James Rishwain said Century City was a “redundancy” and consolidation gave the firm “a positive opportunity to serve clients under a single platform.” While some homegrown Los Angeles firms like Latham & Watkins don’t have a Westside office, others like Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and O’Melveny & Myers have dual locations. For Gibson, Dunn, their 25-lawyer Century City office is more about serving clients than lawyers’ lifestyles, partners say. Gibson’s entertainment clients such as investment banks, MGM and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp. are based nearby, said partner Joel Feuer, who lives near UCLA in Westwood. At least a couple times a week, he meets in person with clients with offices nearby, he said. Most of Gibson partner Jesse Sharf’s clients are either on the Westside � or from out-of-town � and don’t want to venture downtown for meetings, he said. But even though he lives in Santa Monica and works in the Century City office, he said downtown is more enticing in terms of lifestyle, with more varied eating options, the Staples Center for basketball and hockey, and its proximity to Dodger Stadium. “I think Century City is fairly sterile and suburban while downtown is more urban and interesting,” Sharf said. Law firm real estate expert Bay said the lines will be blurring as to what area has more cachet as Los Angeles spruces up its downtown. With additions such as the Staples Center, L.A. Live and ESPN Zone � with the tight market for space in Century City � plenty of real estate moguls are banking on a pricier future downtown. In the past three years, the purchase prices for buildings in downtown has about doubled, even though the net rental costs have only surged by about 10 percent. “If you follow the prices being paid for these buildings, they assume the rents will go up and tenants will be willing to pay those prices,” Bay said.

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