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LOS ANGELES � At a Fourth of July party last year, Adrian and Erica Pruetz � both attorneys at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges � started talking about their job frustrations. Erica, a fourth-year associate, was getting discouraged by the lack of hands-on experience and client interaction. And even though her mother, Adrian, was one of the firm’s most senior partners, she could relate. Adrian had started in 1994 as the firm’s 20th attorney, and had launched its intellectual property practice, attracting clients such as Nike Inc. and Genentech Inc. But she had become so senior that she had a billing rate upward of $800 an hour, pricing her out of everyday client work. “I was the person there at the beginning, and at the end,” she said. “I wanted to be in the trenches.” They tossed around the idea of forming a business litigation firm together, something they’d often joked about. And they realized the timing just made sense. “I thought, ‘That’s the one thing I haven’t done: had my own firm,’” Adrian said. So the two struck out on their own early this year, creating the Pruetz Law Group. As the one-year anniversary nears, the mother-daughter firm has more work than it can handle, and both women say the decision has changed their lives. It’s changed things for Quinn, too, said partner William Urquhart. “IP is the largest practice area in our firm, and Adrian is, in large part, responsible for putting us on the map,” he said. “Anytime you lose someone of that caliber, it has an effect.” WALKING AWAY Adrian said she was one of the most highly compensated partners at Quinn, a firm whose average profits per partner is nearly $2.5 million. But leaving behind that hefty salary wasn’t that hard, she said, especially since her oceanfront house in Hermosa Beach is paid off, and she and her husband have never been drawn to an extravagant lifestyle. “They both drive Priuses,” Erica pointed out. “There comes a point where money just isn’t an issue anymore,” Adrian said. At the onset, they wondered what the reaction among clients would be to a mother-daughter firm. “I think clients get a kick out of it,” Erica, 30, said. “Many clients have children my age and they think it’d be cool to go into business with their son or daughter.” But clients are attracted to more than just the mother-daughter novelty. Adrian’s biotech clients, such as Roche and Abbott Laboratories, were quick to follow her � and her billing rate, which is now in the $550 range. “Our phone started ringing off the hook with clients that had drifted away because of rates,” she said. CLIENT RESPONSE For footwear maker K-Swiss Inc., it was a no-brainer to come along, said General Counsel Lee Green. K-Swiss had originally sought out Adrian at Quinn Emanuel because of her experience on federal court IP trials � and her “perfectly modulated” personality. After Adrian does a presentation, she listens to the critiques, nods her head and is open to changes: “She believes in improvement and ego isn’t a factor,” Green said. When Adrian moved to her own shop, it was an even better deal for the company, Green said. K-Swiss is now getting an experienced lawyer doing much more of the work � with a tremendous cost savings, especially with a trial against Payless ShoeSource Inc. on the horizon.
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“When Adrian was with Quinn, because of the economics of the firm, it was impossible to get her deeply involved until we started trial prep,” Green said. “You go to someone like Adrian because you want them to be deeply involved in case. If you can’t get that because of the economics, it seems to negate the purpose of working with a big firm.” Clients also have liked the idea of a women-run firm, something that fits with diversity goals of many companies, Adrian said. With all of the client interest and just two full-time attorneys, it got very busy, very fast. They’re currently working on 25 active matters, including four appellate briefs before the Federal Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. That’s why the Pruetz Law Group is moving in February into a new office near Los Angeles International Airport that will have space for five attorneys. The location is great for out-of-town clients, and it’s not a bad commute for Adrian, who lives in Hermosa Beach. The firm is now located in Manhattan Beach. “She earned having the office near her,” said Erica, who lives in Santa Monica. For now, the growth plan is five attorneys in five years. But “one thing I learned from Quinn is to grow as work pumps up,” Adrian said. This month, they brought on a recent Loyola Law School graduate as their first attorney hire.

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If there’s a big case, they’ll work with contract attorneys or other firms. They’ve partnered with Quinn to represent Roche in a patent case brought by Stanford University. “Adrian’s a super nice, warm person � although she’s as tough as nails as a litigator,” said Brian Cannon, the Quinn partner serving as her co-counsel. “I think her firm will be a wonderful success.” A MOTHER-DAUGHTER TEAM When Erica was a child, she’d drag her books over to Adrian’s Morrison & Foerster office and watch her mom work. When she was eight, she wrote a complaint letter to a bath toy company, mimicking the style of letters she found in her mom’s scrap paper pile. “She drafted a letter to the company saying what a dud the toy was,” Adrian said, her eyes twinkling at the memory. “We knew she was going to be a lawyer.” At Quinn, Erica didn’t want to follow exactly in her mother’s footsteps, so she tried to keep her distance. But, her second year, they staffed a case together that tested the waters of their working relationship. “Obviously there were days when I thought, ‘Why did I do that?’ but my mom is my mentor,” she said. Now, they try to keep it professional, but can’t help letting work spill over into family life. They often irritate other family members by dissecting cases over dinner. “We drive my son and daughter-in-law crazy,” Adrian said. And Erica says her friends make fun of her when they see who her top three contacts are in her cell phone: Work, mom and mom at home. While the two are similar in many ways � such as their writing style � they have different approaches to law. Adrian brings her decades of experience, and Erica offers a degree of tech-savvy and creativity. Cannon, the Quinn partner, said he recalls Erica’s creativity during a trial, as she directed the design of courtroom models, figuring out their 3-D design and color coordination. “We complement each other well,” Adrian said, adding it’s nice to have two generations brainstorming solutions together. Indeed, the two listen to each other intently, without interrupting, heads tilted slightly to one side. Adrian is calm, reassuring and poised while Erica has an infectious laugh and is rarely without a smile. These days, she’s doing a lot more smiling. “I am happier � this is a better fit,” she said, turning to look at her mom. “And, it’s rejuvenated you.” “We want to chart out our own course,” Adrian said. “We’re partners now.”

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