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Money rained down on private equity funds at record rates in 2006, and California law firms had their buckets out. Firms such as Latham & Watkins and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati headlined rankings released by the newsletter Dow Jones Private Equity Analyst last week, which counts private equity and venture capital deals � as well as new funds advised by U.S. law firms � as reported by the firms. “We’ve always been busy, but I think if you ask anyone in this space they’ll tell you it’s hard to imagine how it could be any busier,” said Peter Kerman, Silicon Valley partner and global corporate chairman at Latham. The firm finished fourth in deals done, completing 340 private equity and 100 venture capital deals last year. Two Silicon Valley firms led the list for total deals reported. Wilson Sonsini of Palo Alto, Calif., had 790 (16 private equity), followed by Gunderson Dettmer Stough Villeneuve Franklin & Hachigian of Menlo Park, Calif., at 709 (22 private equity). Private equity and venture funds set a record last year, raising $215.4 billion, according to the newsletter. A huge share, $148.8 billion, went toward enormous buyouts, while a smaller portion, $25.1 billion, was raised by venture funds. Looking east The ranking breaks out venture capital deals, usually relatively small, from the buyouts and other investments it groups under “private equity.” While Dow Jones ranked firms by total number of deals, private equity and venture capital, venture capital deals tend to have smaller price tags. Counting only private equity work, the top 10 list is led by Latham & Watkins. Larger firms with established East Coast practices, such as Latham; Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker; and O’Melveny & Myers, scooped up a lot of the private equity work. More Silicon Valley-centered firms such as Wilson Sonsini and Cooley Godward Kronish of Palo Alto kept busy with hundreds of venture capital deals. On the private equity side, deals often climbed into the billions of dollars and even tens of billions last year. One of the biggest was the buyout of Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. � a deal worth $27.8 billion. The casino giant hired Latham, capping a banner year for the firm’s private equity practice. Latham’s Kerman attributed the flurry of buyouts to a good economy, the success of private equity firms and debt availability being “as prevalent as it’s ever been.” DLA Piper’s “middle and upper middle market” private equity practice has been developing during the past five years to rival more established venture capital practices, said Anthony Rickert, co-chairman of the firm’s private equity practice. O’Melveny lawyers were also busy with private equity and venture capital deals. The firm finished fifth overall in deals handled, completing 116 private equity deals and 249 venture deals. “I don’t think most Valley firms can do both,” said Warren Lazarow, O’Melveny’s Silicon Valley managing partner. “They don’t have as big of a New York institutional client base as we have � I think we’re unique in that way,” Lazarow said. Action in the Valley Valley firms far outstripped the nation in venture deals in 2006, as evidenced by Wilson Sonsini and Gunderson Dettmer leading the list. Cooley, Fenwick & West and Heller Ehrman, whose corporate practices focus on startups and venture funds, made the top 15, with the vast majority of their deals in the venture category. “We’ve been focused on the emerging-growth sector and venture capital has been there since the beginning,” said Steven Bochner, a Wilson Sonsini partner. “Private equity is a fairly recent entrant into the technology community.”

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