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Los Angeles — Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, a Los Angeles-based law firm, has opened an office in Lafayette, La., to handle Katrina- and other hurricane-related litigation while building on what has become a rapid growth spree across the nation. In six years, Lewis Brisbois has grown from about 260 to 525 lawyers, in large part by defending large insurance clients against lawsuits. In addition to Lafayette, the firm has opened offices in New York, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Chicago and Tucson, Ariz., doubling its size from six California offices. Robert Lewis, founding partner of Lewis Brisbois, said future offices could be in Texas and Florida, and that other growing practice areas include products and premises liability, professional liability, health care and employment. “We had no idea in our wildest dreams of doing what we’re doing today,” said Lewis, who co-founded the firm in 1979 with six other lawyers. Going national About a decade ago, the firm’s leaders decided to go national, Lewis said. One of the major drivers was New York-based American International Group Inc. (AIG), which handled professional malpractice insurance for several California bar associations. “That produced a number of claims for us to do,” Lewis said. Other big insurers became clients, such as St. Paul Travelers Cos. Inc., Allstate Insurance Co. and the Farmers Insurance Group of Companies. In 2002, the firm opened its first office outside of California in New York. Since then, the firm has opened offices in Las Vegas, Phoenix and Tucson. The Chicago office opened in 2005. Danny Worker, managing partner of the Chicago office, said he’s looking at lateral groups and potential merger deals to grow the firm’s eight-lawyer office there. He said he had agreed to merge his boutique firm with Lewis Brisbois to broaden its geographical reach. “The insurance companies are becoming more of a standard national firm presence,” he said. “We thought a combination with Lewis’ offices would benefit our practice as well.” Richard Bane, managing partner of the Lafayette office, said most of the firm’s work there is generated by Allstate’s Katrina- and Rita-related claims but that the firm intends to broaden its client base. “Right now is when the lawsuits are really starting to come in large numbers,” he said. Allstate spokesman Mike Siemienas declined to comment. The firm’s growth hasn’t been without occasional departures. Susan Peck, who worked in the Orange County, Calif., office, said she became the second Lewis Brisbois lawyer to join San Francisco-based Gordon & Rees last year after her main corporate client left for another firm. According to a survey of law firm finances produced by The American Lawyer, an affiliate of The National Law Journal, Lewis Brisbois reported $157 million in gross revenues during 2005 and $460,000 in profits per partner, a relatively low figure when compared with most firms its size. Lewis, who declined to confirm revenue or profit numbers, said the firm’s lawyers are “fairly compensated,” and that not all clients are insurance firms, naming Metabolife International and the Regents of the University of California. Cynthia Vroom, university counsel in the office of general counsel for the University of California Regents, said Lewis Brisbois handles their employment claims. “We expect them to be trial lawyers, and they are,” she said.

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