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Aiken, Kramer & Cummings’ managing partner, Steven Cramer, has grown tired of referring work to other firms. The Oakland lawyer said that to adequately defend the wage-and-hour claims hitting his clients � mostly employers with more than 100 workers � Aiken needed two or three lawyers who focus primarily on employment law. His construction-focused firm had none. When his real estate clients needed land use counsel for shopping center projects, he’s had to reach outside the firm. “One of the things that’s becoming more of a challenge recently is dealing with the need for more depth,” Cramer said. “There is a pattern among firms with whom we compete for clients to engage in greater specialization.” Nothing adds instant specialization like joining a bigger firm. This week, the nine-lawyer Aiken firm announced that it would join with the 56-lawyer Wendel, Rosen, Black & Dean, also of Oakland. The merger is effective Oct. 1. The roots of the two firms reach to the pre-World War I era. Aiken, Kramer was founded in 1896; Wendel, Rosen opened in 1909. Among Aiken’s clients are J.A. Jones Construction Inc. of North Carolina and Mill Construction Co. of Salinas. The addition of five Aiken partners will bring Wendel, Rosen’s total lawyer count to just over 60, of which 45 will be partners. Wendel specializes in environmental, public agency and real estate law, among other practice areas. Wendel, Rosen represents Berkeley’s Clif Bar Inc., 24 Hour Fitness and United Natural Foods Inc., among other clients. Wendel, Rosen’s Managing Partner Howard Lind said the firm has been looking to expand its construction litigation group and its business department. He said lawyers of the two firms are familiar, with only nine floors separating them at their 1111 Broadway St. address, and Wendel litigators have referred work to the smaller firm in the past. Conversely, “a lot of matters that they’d have to refer out will come to us,” Lind said. Joining Wendel, Rosen are business and transactional partners Cramer and John Harkavy, construction litigators Matthew Graham and Richard Sipos and estate planner Elizabeth Engh. Aiken’s three associates and some staff are in the midst of interviews with Wendel, Rosen.
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“We hope to bring as many associates and staff members as we can,” Cramer said. A sixth Aiken partner, Michael Treppa, whose practice includes civil litigation, some catastrophic personal injury defense and professional liability defense, plans to open his own three-lawyer firm in Walnut Creek this fall. Treppa said the Aiken firm has been stable through the years, but like all businesses has had to deal with rising lease rates and personnel costs. When he was firm president in 2004, Treppa said Aiken raised associate salaries by 15 percent. The firm declined to give detailed figures. “Firms of this size, you either need to be small and lean on overhead, which is what I’m going to try to do, or you need to join a larger group,” Treppa said.

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