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For a lawyer who loves securities law as much as James Creigh, jumping from Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati last April to an in-house job at Garage.com Inc. seemed like a shrewd move. The company has high-powered backers and makes its money brokering deals between venture capitalists and startups. It was even planning to go public. Then the stock market took a dive. Garage.com pulled its IPO last month and rethought its growth plans. Though Creigh said the company is still healthy, he said he got to thinking that he’d get more securities action back at Wilson. He will now that he’s joining Wilson chairman Larry Sonsini’s roaring practice group Nov. 20. Creigh is one of many in-house lawyers reconsidering their jump from firms to high-flying startups now that contractions in the market have slowed or squelched company growth plans. “I enjoy being a securities lawyer and, for the most part, securities lawyers belong in firms,” Creigh said. Wilson’s not the only firm welcoming back its prodigal lawyers. Pillsbury Madison & Sutro has brought back three partners and at least three associates since the market turned sour this spring. Fenwick & West, Morrison & Foerster and Cooley Godward have also taken in wayward associates. In Cooley’s case, more than half a dozen associates who defected for in-house slots returned in the past year. “Last year, we experienced substantial associate attrition fueled largely by the availability of opportunities in the dot-com sector,” said Richard Climan, Cooley’s hiring partner. “That attrition has stopped and in fact reversed itself as attorneys have come back. As a result, our lateral associate business hiring has slowed to a trickle.” In-house positions often don’t meet expectations, Climan added: “For some the expected financial rewards never materialized. Others found their day-to-day responsibilities unsatisfying.” Many associates find the transition back to the firms is an easy one. Fenwick & West was ready to take back associate Jason Scully right after the company he co-founded — an online portal for business development executives — floundered. When Scully called the company’s counsel, his old boss at Fenwick, to let the firm know the business failed to raise venture capital, Fenwick partner David Hayes responded right away with an offer. “When I called [Hayes] to let him know, in the next breath, he asked for my address so he could send me an offer letter,” Scully said. The fourth-year intellectual property associate said he mulled going to another company but refused to consider going to another firm. “Obviously, I was feeling pretty up in the air, and that [offer] made me feel pretty good,” Scully said. Would-be dot-comers aren’t the only ones returning to firm life. Eda Tan came back to Morrison & Foerster after a one-year stint with Charles Schwab & Co. Inc. “I kind of missed some of the work I did in private practice,” like securities work, Tan said. At MoFo, Tan will have a shot at international work. And the firm made her a partner. In addition to having associates return to the fold, firms said they are experiencing a significant decline in attrition. Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison’s attrition rate has dropped from 22 percent in 1999 to about 13 percent this year. “A good part of the reason for that is people are not going in-house because it’s not so much of a sure thing any longer,” said Molly Lane, chairwoman of Brobeck’s firmwide hiring committee. With turnover slowing down and firm ranks stabilizing, “it’s almost like the last two and a half years never happened,” said Venture Law Group’s Donald Keller Jr. “This get-rich-quick thinking made a lot of people unhappy about their situations, and people are feeling better about being lawyers again,” Keller said.

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