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CHICAGO � Ropes & Gray and Proskauer Rose are exploring the possibility of setting up shop in Chicago next year in an effort to bring their private equity practices to a new market, according to sources familiar with the law firms’ plans. Ropes and Gray, with roots in Boston, and Proskauer Rose, founded in New York, both have developed extensive practices in the private-equity area, helping clients create such funds, invest in them and pursue various fund-related transactions, including mergers and acquisitions. Spokesmen for the firms declined to comment. Attractive target market Chicago is an attractive target market because the city is home to a number of private-equity fund companies, including one of the biggest in the United States, Madison Dearborn Partners LLC. Kirkland & Ellis, which has its biggest office in Chicago, pioneered the practice of law in the area and has long been a dominant player in it. Still, other firms may consider the city ripe for more competition. “Firms view Chicago as an interesting market because there’s a lot of private-equity funds and Kirkland represents almost all of them,” said Mark Tresnowski, the general counsel at Madison Dearborn and a former Kirkland attorney. Private-equity funds use investor capital to buy into privately held companies that typically later provide a return by selling shares to the public or being sold. In addition to Madison Dearborn, GTCR Golder Rauner, Code Hennessy & Simmons LLC and Lake Capital Management LLC also have headquarters in Chicago. Ropes & Gray and Proskauer Rose ranked among the top 10 law firms in terms of the value of private-equity transactions they worked on in fiscal year 2006, according to The Mergermarket Group. Ropes & Gray was in fourth place with $74.8 billion in deals and Proskauer Rose in 10th place with $31.9 billion. While Kirkland was ranked 25th in terms of the total value of transactions, it ranked second behind New York’s Simpson Thacher & Bartlett in the number of deals with 22. Firms specializing in private equity might be attracted to both the potential clients in Chicago as well as the pool of attorney talent in the area, Tresnowski said. Kirkland pioneered a legal expertise in the area in the 1970s when a partner, Jack S. Levin, started to focus on the practice. While Levin still works at the firm, partner Jeff Hammes now plays a leading role for Kirkland’s team of about 300 private-equity attorneys. Hammes said “less competition is better than more competition,” but seemed little threatened by rivals. “We’re very confident in the depth of our relationships in Chicago and the quality of the services we provide,” Hammes said.

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