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One of the Southwest’s largest law firms is aiming farther west. Snell & Wilmer, a 440-lawyer firm with its roots in Phoenix, is eyeing several of California’s largest cities for possible expansion, particularly Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco. The growth plans come as the firm steadily adds lawyers while consistently producing double-digit increases in annual revenues. Much of the firm’s financial success comes from substantial trial work, most notably defending Ford Motor Co. against lawsuits involving sport utility vehicle rollovers. The firm also handles considerable corporate and real estate work, particularly in Las Vegas. “We’re basically a Southwestern firm that’s always looking for opportunities,” said Warren Platt, a member of the firm’s executive committee and a partner in the firm’s only California office, which is in Orange County’s Costa Mesa. “We’re presently talking to people in San Diego, and we’re exploring opportunities in Los Angeles and also in San Francisco.” Frank Snell, a corporate lawyer, and Mark Wilmer, a trial attorney, founded Snell & Wilmer in 1938. Today, about half of the firm’s lawyers are litigators and half handle transactional work. In the past two decades, the firm opened offices in Salt Lake City; Denver; Las Vegas; and Tucson, Ariz. About 15 to 30 lawyers join the firm each year, Platt said. $200M in revenues Snell & Wilmer, which has a closed compensation system, does not report its finances. But Platt confirmed that the firm ended last year with revenues of more than $200 million. In 2005, Snell & Wilmer increased revenue 14.7% from the prior year, according to the annual list of the most profitable law firms compiled by The American Lawyer, an NLJ affiliate. John Bouma, chairman of Snell & Wilmer, said the firm is looking to open more California offices in the next five years. But he cautioned that the plans are contingent on acquiring the right group of lawyers or law firms. The top priority is to open an office in Los Angeles, but future offices also could be in San Francisco, San Diego or Sacramento, he said. The firm also is considering expanding to Seattle and Portland, Ore. “We’d be looking for the people who want to expand in the sense of a larger footprint � particularly in the cities we’re in, which are among the fastest growing in the nation,” Bouma said. Driving much of the firm’s growth is litigation, mostly in products liability, consumer class actions and intellectual property. In addition to Ford, the firm has represented Emerson Electric Co., Toyota Motor Corp. and General Motors Corp. in products liability litigation, said Platt, the senior partner who has represented Ford in litigation since the days of the Firestone tire recalls. In the past 16 months, Snell & Wilmer has handled an average of one case a month for Ford, said Don Lough, assistant general counsel for product litigation at Ford. “Snell & Wilmer is one of a very short list of firms I would send any litigation matter to anywhere,” Lough said, noting that the firm handles some of Ford’s “biggest and most difficult cases” in the most challenging jurisdictions. On the transactional side, the firm specializes in business and finance, real estate and franchising. Snell currently represents MGM Mirage in developing the $7 billion City Center project in Las Vegas. But the firm’s Southwest focus hasn’t come without some defections. In August 2006, two longtime employment partners, Tibor Nagy and James Mackie, left to open a Tucson office for Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, which has four of its five largest offices in the Southeast.

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