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LOS ANGELES � Not all employment law boutiques are up for grabs. Payne & Fears, an Irvine, Calif.-based firm with about 50 lawyers and a funny name, has steadily grown to accommodate an overwhelming demand to resolve various employment disputes for its clients, which include Safeway Inc., Bank of America Corp. and The Home Depot Inc. In addition, Payne & Fears has branched into other practice areas, with about half of its lawyers now handling commercial litigation. In the past four years, Payne & Fears has opened offices in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and San Francisco. Managing partner James Payne said the firm plans to open locations in Phoenix and Dallas. But unlike most employment law boutiques, which have been gobbled up by large firms in recent years, Payne & Fears has other plans. “The strategy has not been to grow for the sake of growth,” Payne said. “We’re not trying to become a megafirm. We’re growing based on client demand.” Payne and Daniel Fears co-founded the firm in 1992 after a decade in the employment law department of Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker. At that time, “it was harder and harder to justify the big-firm rates and staffing ratios on typical labor and employment law cases,” Payne said. “So, we concluded, there was a real need at that point in time for a labor and employment law boutique where we could offer a better rate structure,” Payne said. In 2003, Payne & Fears opened its first office outside Irvine in downtown Los Angeles. One year later, the firm added a Las Vegas office. Its San Francisco location opened last year. Now, Payne said, he is talking with lawyers in Phoenix and Dallas. But the firm has no plans to merge, even though several East Coast firms have expressed interest, Payne said. “We made the decision we’re not interested in a merger and continue with that view,” he said, adding that revenues have increased 10% annually for five years. “We want to maintain our own identity.” Rapid response Most of the firm’s growth comes from client demand, Payne said. For instance, employment litigation against Safeway and Home Depot pushed Payne & Fears to open in San Francisco, Payne said. Despite its boutique size, Payne & Fears has a long list of large clients. The firm serves as an “extension of my law department,” said Stephen Moran, general counsel of Toshiba America Business Solutions Inc., a division of the U.S. subsidiary to Toshiba Corp. that has 3,700 employees. Moran said the firm handles all its employment disputes, most recently counseling on union issues related to layoffs and executive employment contracts. With Payne & Fears, “we get a rapid response,” he said. “That’s sometimes difficult when I have used the larger law firms.” Several other clients, such as Lennar Corp. and Pulte Homes Inc., have retained Payne & Fears for insurance coverage issues or other commercial work, Payne said. Having commercial work, in addition to employment disputes, was one reason why Charles “Chuck” Louderback decided last year to bring all 10 lawyers from his firm to Payne & Fears. “We were an employment boutique firm but also did commercial litigation,” said Louderback, who helped open the San Francisco office, where he is now managing partner. “Payne & Fears is more flexible in taking employment cases but venturing outside the area,” Louderback added. “They’ve been successful at doing that.”

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