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CHICAGO�The federal prosecutor who secured the conviction of former Illinois Gov. George Ryan on public corruption charges may leave the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago and has had discussions with law firms in the city, according to sources familiar with the talks. Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Collins, who has worked in the office for 12 years, most likely would not leave before the end of next month, according to the sources. Oral arguments in Ryan’s appeal of the conviction are scheduled to begin on Feb. 20. Collins declined to comment on his plans. “My current focus is on the important work that I am doing with my colleagues in the U.S. Attorney’s Office,” Collins said. Collins, who triumphed over former Chicago federal prosecutor and current Winston & Strawn chairman Dan Webb to win the Ryan conviction last April, would be entering the private legal market at a time when trial experience like his is at a premium. The demand for such prosecutors, with their extensive trial experience, is rising as white-collar litigation becomes a bigger business for firms nationwide. “That’s a rapidly growing area of the law and we would like to expand with it,” said John Hickey, a senior partner at Kirkland & Ellis in Chicago. Hickey declined to comment on any interest his firm may have in pursuing a federal prosecutor. The price for such talent has also risen, in part because of an unprecedented firm bidding contest late last year to hire Sean Berkowitz, the former Chicago federal prosecutor who led the Department of Justice team in convicting former Enron Corp. executives in 2006. Berkowitz decided last November to join the Chicago office of Latham & Watkins. Katten Muchin Rosenman and Kirkland & Ellis were among the firms that bid for Berkowitz. He declined to comment on his salary. The national firm effect Another factor driving up the competition for such talent is the arrival and expansion in Chicago of national firms over the past 18 months, said Dan Reidy, a former federal prosecutor now in the Chicago office of Jones Day. That new market competition is in turn driving up what firms are willing to pay for such local prosecutors, said Reidy, though he said he had no knowledge of the Collins situation. Paul Hastings opened a Chicago office last November while LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae and Perkins Coie are also looking to increase the stature of their offices in the city. Expanding firms are particularly hungry for prosecutors with local Chicago experience, Reidy said. Still, Collins doesn’t have the added national profile that helped push up demand for Berkowitz, said one person familiar with the talks. Collins, who leads the public corruption unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, also last year led the successful prosecution of former Chicago official Robert Sorich on charges of rigged city hiring. Sorich is appealing his conviction and oral arguments aren’t likely to begin until mid to late spring. The possible departure by Collins comes amid a wave of resignations by federal prosecutors across the country. More than a dozen federal prosecutors in the central district of California have left that office recently following the departure last October of U.S. Attorney Debra Wong Yang, who joined Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in Los Angeles. U.S. Attorney Kevin Ryan announced this month that he would leave his San Francisco post in the northern district of California.

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