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Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler is the latest law firm to form a practice group focused on subprime lending issues and litigation, following similar moves by Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker and Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman earlier this year. As more homeowners default on subprime loans, they’re setting off a cascade of legal troubles that range from bankruptcies of the institutions that provided the loans to investment losses on securities backed by the home mortgages to state and federal probes of possible misrepresentations about the loans. Wooing clients In response, firms are establishing groups of lawyers that will focus on wooing clients troubled by the crisis. Lawyers on the new teams from litigation, bankruptcy, criminal defense and other practices aren’t solely devoted to such matters, but they’re working together more closely to handle work in the area. At Patterson Belknap, where six attorneys will be a part of the new group, the idea to brand the practice grew out of the firm’s work for an insurer on subprime related matters and that client’s recent referral of two hedge funds, said Philip Forlenza, a senior litigation partner on the team in New York. “The thought was, all right, this is becoming a significant practice and let’s formalize what we’ve been doing,” Forlenza said. In addition to Forlenza, the team has pulled on board Peter Harvey, a former New Jersey attorney general; Michael Mukasey, former chief judge for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York; and Paul Gardephe, a former chief appellate attorney for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York who is leading the team. There are bigger losses and more people involved than in a similar subprime lending meltdown in the late 1990s, said Rick Antonoff, a bankruptcy and restructuring partner at Pillsbury Winthrop who is leading that firm’s team. “There are a lot more litigation targets,” Antonoff said. While Antonoff can’t point to any particular clients who have walked through the door since Pillsbury started the group in April, he has received numerous media calls for comment on the crisis, and that gets the word out about the firm’s services, he said. “It’s an attempt to be on the cutting edge in promoting the expertise of certain individuals,” said Keith Miller, a Paul Hastings litigation partner in New York. At Paul Hastings, the 10 attorneys involved in the group have conference calls on the latest cases and court decisions related to the issue, and jointly pitch services to new and existing clients. In early August, the firm planned a Web presentation that attracted 120 participants, Miller said. Forming the group helps the lawyers operate more efficiently, Antonoff said. “We share information much better,” he said. “When issues come up, we can address [them] very quickly.” Pillsbury Winthrop has drawn together 15 lawyers from its bankruptcy, real estate, litigation and banking practices in New York, Washington and four California offices. With an increasing number of firms touting their services in the area, Antonoff is quick to note that Pillsbury Winthrop was “first” to initiate a team on the topic. It’s becoming something of a trend for the firm after forming practice groups on stock-options backdating and climate change as well.

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