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Kirkland & Ellis, a litigation-focused firm founded in Chicago, plans to open an office in Palo Alto, Calif., later this year as firms rush to the Silicon Valley area to grab talent and clients in the U.S. technology company center. The firm’s management committee has approved the opening for autumn, though the plan won’t be finalized until after partners vote on it in the spring, according to a memo sent to lawyers at the firm and confirmed by some partners who declined to speak for the record. Brian Pitts, a spokesman for the firm, declined to comment on the plans. The new office will, if it’s approved by partners, be the ninth office for the 1,400-lawyer firm worldwide and the sixth in the United States, where it already has outposts in San Francisco and Los Angeles. The most recent Kirkland office opening was in Hong Kong in January 2007. The new Palo Alto office would augment the firm’s private equity and intellectual property litigation practices in the San Francisco office; allow it to attract attorney talent 40 miles away in the Silicon Valley area; and might help build up its short list of technology company clients. Many major U.S. firms, including several of Kirkland’s Chicago rivals, already have an office in either Palo Alto or Menlo Park, Calif., often in addition to offices in San Francisco about an hour’s drive away. “One of the primary reasons that firms open offices in the Silicon Valley is specifically to get access to the lateral talent in that market,” said Chuck Fanning, a legal recruiter at legal search firm Major, Lindsey & Africa, headquartered in San Francisco. “By accessing top lateral partner talent in that market, you’re also going to be accessing the local client base.” The expertise and culture of lawyers in San Francisco is distinct from that of attorneys in the Silicon Valley area despite their proximity, Fanning said. While San Francisco’s law offices historically offered a full array of legal services for the city’s now waning banking industry, Silicon Valley attorneys have focused on the needs of high-technology and entrepreneurial companies, providing intellectual property, private equity and other services, he said. It’s common for firms to have a presence in both the Silicon Valley and in San Francisco, Fanning said. It would be unusual to open the Palo Alto office without lateral hires as was the case when the firm opened its San Francisco office, said Fanning, a co-leader of the recruiter’s global partner practice who declined to talk about specific law firms. Kirkland launched its office in San Francisco in 2003 with a group of attorneys who relocated from the firm’s other offices. It now has about 90 lawyers there, led by Jeffrey Hammes. Hammes, who opened the San Francisco office, will also initially lead the Palo Alto office, the firm said in the memo. Hammes said that it was “premature” to discuss the plans. Most of the big Chicago-rooted firms � including Mayer Brown; DLA Piper; Baker & McKenzie; Katten Muchin Rosenman; Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal; and McDermott, Will & Emery � have a presence in Silicon Valley. Sidley Austin’s Charles Douglas, chairman of the management committee, said his firm may consider opening an office in the area. Winston & Strawn declined to comment. Two Texas firms, Baker Botts and Haynes and Boone, also said for the first time this month that they may open offices in Northern California as early as this year. They cited the attractiveness of the technology sector and its intellectual property and venture capital opportunities, as well as the base that the area provides for serving clients with ties to Asia. Silicon Valley may be a particularly attractive to firms as the broader U.S. economy suffers under the weight of the subprime crisis and resulting credit crunch. The area’s economy has held up well so far, Fanning said. “We’re not seeing much of a softening here,” he said. Kirkland may indeed be interested in snagging more of the area’s technology companies as clients. A review of the firm’s top corporate clients offered by Kirkland on its Web site includes few major U.S. technology companies.

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