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You’re 27 years old, single, and an associate at a major New York firm. You lunch at Nobu and unwind at Morgan’s Bar. Your Tribeca loft gets great light (at least it did when you saw it in daytime last July). Then, one day, your managing partner asks if you’d move to the firm’s newly opened Menlo Park, California, office. No way! Silicon Valley may be the economy’s hot spot, but it still reeks of cow town to hip Manhattanites. Strip malls are the dominant architectural feature, people dress in annoyingly perky colors, and you have to make do with the anemic national edition of The New York Times. So it’s not surprising that the more than half-dozen New York firms that have ventured to the Valley in the last two years are finding it a challenge to staff these outposts. Daniel Kelly, a partner in Davis Polk & Wardwell’s year-old Menlo Park, Calif., office, says that getting associate transfers has been harder than attracting new economy clients. One hurdle is that Davis Polk is looking for lawyers to move there for the long term, instead of rotating through for a few years, as people do in Paris. And, of course, the Valley doesn’t offer quite the same charms as Paris. Kelly says that some associates have opted to live in the more cosmopolitan San Francisco, 45 miles to the north, but the traffic-clogged commute is a strain. He notes that in recent months interest in the office has picked up, as the branch has generated some “positive buzz.” About half of the office’s 18 associates have relocated from New York, in some cases from rival firms. Davis Polk doesn’t offer extra compensation to buffer the Valley’s notoriously high housing costs, since it views the market as comparable to New York. Shearman & Sterling, on the other hand, has thrown a financial incentive into the pot to attract associates to its two-year-old Menlo Park office. Starting this fall, it’s been offering Valley associates an $800-a-month (pretax) car allowance. “The Valley is different,” says Peter Lyons, managing partner of Shearman’s Bay Area offices. He explains that its Valley associates must have wheels, unlike their colleagues in New York and London. “When we look at how to compensate associates, we look at individual markets,” he says. Lyons can’t be sure how alluring this perk has been, but notes that the last time he checked the parking lot, he saw a BMW and an SUV subsidized by the firm. The firm has recently recruited seven associates to Menlo Park. None, however, are from New York. In coming months Shearman will need to hand out a lot more car allowances. Next year it will move into space it plans to fill with 60 lawyers — good news for the local Lexus dealer. Over at the Palo Alto, Calif., office of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, the firm isn’t dangling Beemer keys before associates. Still, it’s managed to grow from five lawyers to 43 in two-and-a-half years. Most of the associates, however, have come from offices in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and the like. “New York is a tougher sell,” says Kenton King, who heads Skadden’s Valley office. The firm has lured just a couple from the Big Apple, and one went back. Skadden lets lawyers test the waters for three to six months before asking them to commit. Even when lawyers return east, King says, Skadden benefits by having lawyers throughout the firm exposed to the Valley’s technology practice. King admits that the area can disappoint hard-core urbanites. “It does look a little like Disneyland,” he says. “There are tree-lined streets where they have lights on the trees even when it’s not Christmas.” But, he continues, “if you can get past ‘This ain’t Manhattan’ … to a professional level, there’s a tremendous enthusiasm [about the work] that outweighs the hesitation people have from a lifestyle standpoint.” That’s not to say the Bay Area doesn’t have its lifestyle advantages. “It’s more exciting than living in New York, in terms of outdoor stuff — windsurfing and sailing and skiing,” says Siobhan Dalton, a second-year Davis Polk associate who moved from New York to the Valley last January. Still, overall, Valley life seemed too tame. “I thought living in the Valley was a little suburban,” says Dalton, who is 27 and single. So the New Jersey native relocated to San Francisco’s funky Haight neighborhood. Now she’s got a nightmare commute. But she enjoys the work and has been part of some “exciting deals,” like client Network Solutions, Inc.’s purchase by VeriSign, Inc., for $21 billion and client HomeGrocer.com’s acquisition by Webvan Group, Inc. So will Dalton still be in the Valley in another year? Will skiing and Internet clients outweigh traffic jams and suburbia? Perhaps. But before Dalton is certain of her plans, she’ll have to overcome the feeling that she’s a Yankee-loving New Yorker transplanted to a strange land. Like when she finds her ground-floor office momentarily disorienting. “It’s kind of weird,” she says, “to see people walking past your office window.”

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