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With its genteel New England traditionalism, Connecticut has long been known as the “land of steady habits.” Unfortunately, for much of the last decade the state’s steadiest habit was watching its most prominent industries downsize and consolidate. Connecticut’s hard times hit Hartford, historically the state’s financial and industrial center, especially hard. After a wave of mergers and buyouts, not a single major regional bank called the city home. And even Hartford’s status as the nation’s insurance capital was tarnished as heavyweights like Cigna Corporation and Aetna Inc. moved out or shed jobs. So what was an old-line Hartford firm to do when old-line Hartford faded away? One option was to fade away with it. The most spectacular example of that was the 1996 demise of Schatz & Schatz, Ribicoff & Kotkin, a stalwart Hartford firm that suddenly found itself too closely linked with the city’s disappearing banks. But thanks to a relatively broad practice and some recession-proof clients, Hartford’s biggest old-line law firm — Day, Berry & Howard — managed to get through the dark days of the New England recession relatively unscathed. And when the nation’s economic boom finally hit the region a few years ago, Day Berry had already reoriented itself to capitalize on the New Economy. As recently as 25 years ago, Day Berry fit the stereotype of the Hartford insurance firm. “We, like every other firm in this town, did insurance defense work,” says chairman Robert Siegel. “Fifty percent or more of our trial practice was insurance defense, including medical malpractice, product liability, and motor vehicle cases.” And it wasn’t just litigation: Day Berry’s corporate practice similarly focused on commodity insurance work, with main corporate clients including Aetna and Travelers Group Inc. But the firm realized early on that its dependence on insurance work had left it overexposed. In the mid-1970s, Siegel says, the firm began to diversify and expand its base. “Today,” he says, “traditional insurance defense work is a negligible part of our practice.” By the time the recession hit Hartford in the early 1990s, Day Berry not only had broadened its practice base but also had a group of clients and practice areas that seemed more or less immune to the recession. Among those was one of its top clients, Northeast Utilities, the largest electric company in New England. The utility provided Day Berry a steady flow of transactional business throughout the 1990s, first in dealing with a slew of regulatory problems related to its nuclear generating plants and then with deregulation. The firm’s employment litigation group and its bankruptcy practice also thrived, as much of Hartford downsized or went out of business. When the recession eased, it was time again for Day Berry to take a hard look at its business plan. The decimation of Connecticut’s insurance and financial services industries meant that continuing as a full-service, Old Economy Connecticut firm was clearly not going to be a recipe for growth. But regional expansion would be difficult: A hundred miles to the north was Boston, home of some of the nation’s oldest and most entrenched law firms, and a hundred miles to the south was the cutthroat New York market. So Day Berry found a niche — or, as Siegel puts it, decided to end its days of being “everything for everybody.” He focused on moving upmarket to more sophisticated work and on developing a New Economy practice. Gone was the low-margin insurance defense work of the past; replacing it was more lucrative work for those same clients in environmental, regulatory, and class action litigation. The firm launched a marketing push to go national with its energy practice, which had been developed to service Northeast Utilities. The effort netted several large clients from outside New England, such as a Virginia-based gas and electric company and the Texas Public Utilities Commission, which the firm is counseling on complex securitization issues. Siegel says that in the last 18 months, the firm’s energy practice has raked in $2 million of new business. But Day, Berry’s biggest bet is on the New Economy. While a far cry from Silicon Valley, a viable technology corridor has emerged in Connecticut’s southern tier. To the state’s large law firms, the corridor — dubbed “Silicon Parkway” after the Merritt Parkway, a highway that cuts through it — is a hoped-for locus for a new generation of clients, and, more to the point, Connecticut’s most obvious source of indigenous growth. To tap that market, Day Berry has sought to build up a technology practice by systematically bolstering its business, litigation, intellectual property, and corporate practices. In the sort of raid that was all but unheard of in the genteel Hartford market, Day Berry lured lateral partner Frank Marco from Shipman & Goodwin, a smaller crosstown rival in 1998. Marco, a specialist in venture capital and emerging growth work, embarked on building Day Berry’s technology practice, and today, Siegel says, half of the firm’s business law practice is technology-related. Siegel says that of the largest 100 Connecticut firms receiving venture capital in 1999, 25 percent were Day Berry clients. The firm’s technology practice made local headlines in June when it represented Sirocco Systems, Inc., a Wallingford, Conn.-based maker of optical networking products, in its stock acquisition by Sycamore Networks of Chelmsford, Mass. With a value of $2.9 billion, it was the largest M&A deal that Day Berry had ever worked on as lead counsel to a principal, outranking the $2.2 billion merger of Northeast Utilities and Public Service of New Hampshire in 1992. In contrast to the firm’s successes in energy and technology, Day, Berry’s efforts to expand geographically outside Connecticut have been troubled, and former Day Berry attorneys say the firm’s long-term vision remains unclear. The firm’s Boston office, which opened in 1980, has been a particular focus for criticism from former Day Berry attorneys and Boston insiders. (Although the firm has offices in Hartford, Greenwich, and Stamford, Conn., the Boston office represents its only foray outside of Connecticut.) “I don’t think they’re perceived particularly well here,” says a legal recruiter in Boston. “They haven’t expanded like [Providence's] Edwards & Angell or [Chicago's] McDermott, Will & Emery. They’ve kind of floundered around.” The office recently has suffered a spate of departures. Siegel confirms that the office’s entire employment law practice defected to Chicago’s Seyfarth Shaw two years ago and has yet to be replaced. Those defections followed the departure of Deval Patrick, a former head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division who had been recruited to head the Boston office’s employment practice. Patrick left the firm to become the general counsel of Texaco Inc. Siegel disputes, however, that the Boston office has been a failure. For much of its life, the office has thrived, he says; it has only been in the last few years that it was caught flat-footed by the departures of several key partners, some of whom retired. Siegel also notes that the office maintains a successful and growing national finance practice with well-known national and international clients including Salomon Smith Barney Inc. and BTM Capital Corporation, an affiliate of The Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi, Ltd. But Siegel does concede that the office’s overall success “recently has plateaued, and we need to add some additional talent.” Siegel says the firm will focus on its finance and probate litigation practices in Boston, as well as a nascent technology practice. To some former Day Berry attorneys, however, the travails of the Boston office reflect the firm’s larger ambivalence about growing beyond Connecticut. Says one departed lawyer from the Boston office: “There’s a group of partners that would like to be more national, and there’s a group that doesn’t want to lose its identity as Day, Berry & Howard, the 800-pound gorilla of Connecticut.” That uncertainty has caused the firm to fail to adequately invest in the Boston office, this lawyer says, and led to continued hesitation about further expansion. Siegel again disagrees, saying that differences of opinion are a natural part of law firm life and occur over even relatively minor subjects. “If you ask people about casual dress day, there is a division,” he says. “I think that’s part of our strength. We have different views, and we discuss them, and a consensus emerges. I think there’s a clear consensus that we have to [expand] our practice, and we have to grow beyond our base in Connecticut.” Siegel says the firm’s wider expansion plans are still under discussion, but that he expects the firm to open a branch in New York or Washington, D.C., in the next few years. For now, however, New York and Washington can wait. Day Berry’s focus at the moment is on riding the Silicon Parkway as far as it can go, away from Hartford’s shaky fortunes and the firm’s Boston Blues, and toward greener pastures where a new generation of cash cows is waiting. Day, Berry & Howard HOME OFFICE:Hartford NUMBER OF LAWYERS:225 GROSS REVENUE:(1999) $95 million PROFITS PER PARTNER:(1999) $360,000 CLIENTS:Travelers Insurance, United Technologies, Northeast Utilities Am Law 200 Index

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