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Nick Geannacopulos did something unusual at Seyfarth Shaw’s partner retreat, held last month at the seaside Ritz-Carlton in Laguna Niguel. He gathered 50 California partners at the 725-lawyer labor and employment powerhouse for a meeting, but he wouldn’t let the labor lawyers say a word until they’d heard from every other practice group. Seyfarth has, for several years, been trying to move past its roots to become a more full-service firm, and Geannacopulos, a labor lawyer who heads the firm’s San Francisco office, said the idea was to make sure his labor and employment colleagues knew about the other practices, like bankruptcy and real estate, that the firm has begun building in the state. “Everybody talks about cross-selling, but there’s really a lot of old-fashioned hard work to get the ball moving forward,” Geannacopulos said. “Our model is to incentivize sharing; we’re getting better about it.” As law firms continue to grow larger, many of those that built themselves on a single strong practice are branching out. It’s a daunting task. Attracting laterals in a practice area that a firm isn’t known for can be difficult and expensive, and convincing clients that the firm can handle a legal matter in a developing practice is equally trying. National IP firm Fish & Richardson found that out a few years ago. The firm set out to build a corporate practice and hoped to tap into its roster of blue chip IP clients for the new practice, but it didn’t work out. Now, the firm has changed course, aiming its corporate efforts, especially in Silicon Valley, at emerging companies. “The first thought on the corporate group was to try to cross-sell to larger existing clients, but that proved to be kind of hard,” said Michael Doran, a Fish corporate partner in Silicon Valley. “We don’t have the history and the bench to make that realistic � there were some optimistic attempts in the early days going after the big game, but we quickly realized that we had to regroup.” Doran said that getting corporate work from the firm’s patent prosecutors, who often find themselves filing patents for young companies, has proven a lot more fruitful. Doug Johnson, a consultant with Hildebrandt International, said cross-selling really starts with the lawyers at the firms. Too often, he said, they’re “stuck in silos” trying to meet their billable requirements. There are a couple of ways to change that. One is to reward lawyers financially for efforts to sell a client to colleagues in another practice, even if it doesn’t actually turn into new business � something that few firms actually do, Johnson said. Another is creating so-called client teams, groups of lawyers from across practices that meet off the clock on a regular basis to discuss a particular client in hopes of anticipating new legal needs � something that more and more firms, including Seyfarth, are trying these days. Johnson said show-and-tells, like the one Geannacopulos orchestrated, are also important, but that the lawyers in a new practice area have to make sure to follow up with their newfound colleagues. “You’ve got to look at the partners here as a client,” Johnson said. “You have to maintain a relationship, put things on their desks, keep in touch � make sure they know what you have to offer.” SLOWLY AND SOMEWHAT SURELY For a new partner, getting the attention of new colleagues can take time. Seyfarth partner Donald Featherstun joined the firm in 1995. A government contracts lawyer, Featherstun said that in his first three or four years at the firm, 100 percent of his work came from clients he’d brought with him from Pettit & Martin. Now, he said, other Seyfarth lawyers refer about 30 or 40 percent of his work to him, including Avaya Inc., a telecom company that had been a client of the firm’s labor practice. “It’s not something that just happens overnight,” Featherstun said. Although the Seyfarth lawyers said they weren’t exactly clear on how cross-selling efforts are rewarded in compensation, they did say they get a bump in client expense accounts if they bring another lawyer to pitch business. The firm has about 35 labor and employment attorneys in its San Francisco office, compared to about 20 lawyers from practices ranging from real estate to bankruptcy to commercial litigation. At Fish’s Silicon Valley office, four of the roughly 40 lawyers are in the corporate practice, with the majority in IP. But Fish’s office managing partner, Howard Pollack, said the firm is committed to building a corporate practice. Part of that commitment has meant being flexible with rates to get their foot in the door with start-ups. The firm has come up with package deals for start-ups, called “Accerleredge.” For $2,500, a budding company can buy a corporate, employment or trademark package that will take care of certain initial legal tasks at a fixed cost. “You’ve got to be nimble to adjust to the needs of the marketplace,” Pollack said. CorTxt, a start-up developing ways to enhance the performance of GPS and other location based services, is one start-up that has turned to Fish for its corporate needs. R. Michael Johnson, the CEO, said he’d used the firm for IP matters in the past and when an IP partner recommended the firm’s budding corporate practice for his new venture, he took the bait. Although 90 percent of the company’s legal spending has been on IP matters and only 10 percent on corporate, Johnson said he’s been pleased with work corporate partner Doran has done. “My experience with some of the big firms is that you’re a small fish in a big pond and you don’t get treated very well unless you spend a pile of money,” Johnson said. “That hasn’t been the case here.” Both firms said they have no illusions that they’ll be renowned for their strong suits in the next few years, but they also hope to build up their newer practices. For at least one brand-new bankruptcy lawyer at Seyfarth, the meeting in Laguna Niguel was a good start. “It generated additional conversations and that’s created some opportunities,” said David Wiseblood, a San Francisco partner. “If you can just get your foot in the door � that’s all you can ask for.”

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