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Goodwin Procter has stolen Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati’s venture fund formation group. Wilson partners Jonathan Axelrad and Robert Fore and of counsel Gerald Chacon Jr. joined the Boston firm’s nascent Palo Alto office Wednesday. The remaining four associates and one of counsel could also follow. The move underscores Goodwin’s aggressive march into Silicon Valley and its ability to pry partners from local firms like Wilson. “It took an enormous strategic benefit to lure me out of Wilson Sonsini,” said Axelrad, a 17-year Wilson veteran. “But the ability to be part of the team that covers the entire spectrum of fund issues was too compelling to resist.” Goodwin has 23 lawyers in its fund formation group that work on hedge funds, real estate funds, buyout funds and venture capital funds. Although Wilson has droves of lawyers that do venture deals, the firm’s fund formation practice has been mostly limited to Axelrad’s eight-lawyer group. While the group’s exit may gut Wilson’s fund formation practice, legal observers say they don’t think it will hurt the firm’s venture practice overall. “Wilson’s relationship with the venture community goes far beyond the fund formation group,” said Natasha Ciancutti, a recruiter with Major, Lindsey & Africa, which was not involved in the deal. “There was a time when fund formation gave them access to clients who they now consider institutional.” Axelrad has done work for venture capital heavy hitters like Sequoia Capital, VantagePoint Venture Partners and Trident Capital � all longtime Wilson clients. On Tuesday, he said that “a number of clients have already said they’d be coming over,” but he declined to name them. Last year, Wilson ranked 17th on Private Equity Analyst’s fund formation league table. Led by Axelrad’s group, the firm advised 49 general partners (owners) and 24 limited partners (investors) in funds that had a final close last year. The firm ranked No. 1 in venture deals done. “If you go in the California market and you ask people who are the experts in the fund formation area, they are at the top of the list and consistently mentioned,” said Kevin Dennis, who co-heads Goodwin’s Palo Alto office. “That made us very interested in them.” Goodwin opened its doors in Palo Alto in June with IP lawyers from Townsend and Townsend and Crew, securities litigators from Wilson Sonsini and a corporate attorney from Latham & Watkins. Since then, they have added associates and with Tuesday’s hires now have 17 lawyers in the office. “We feel very good about where we are now,” Dennis said. “We feel very good about what we can do.” Goodwin, which has 850 lawyers, is known for its private equity practice. But Axelrad said he’s not looking to change his stripes and become a private equity fund formation lawyer, even though he expects to rely on the advice of Goodwin’s various fund formation lawyers � something that was missing at his old firm. “It became clear to us that we were spending an increasing period of our time seeking expertise outside Wilson Sonsini to satisfy our needs,” he said. Though Axelrad wouldn’t say whether the rest of the group is to going follow him to Goodwin, he did say that the associates “have certainly expressed interest.” A Wilson Sonsini spokeswoman, Courtney Dorman, said, “It’s always disappointing to see a partner leave, but we wish them the best.” She did not have any comment on the fate of the firm’s fund formation practice. Goodwin’s revenue per lawyer last year was $815,000, compared to Wilson’s $790,000; Goodwin’s profits per partner came in at $1.43 million, compared to Wilson’s $1.275 million.

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