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David R. King, one of the top rainmakers in Morgan Lewis & Bockius’ Philadelphia office, has decided to abandon his highly profitable biotechnology-oriented transactional practice in favor of running the business operation of a client. After a transition period in which he will hand over his clients — which include Cephalon Inc., 3 Dimensional Pharmaceuticals, Cell Pathways, Arena Pharmaceuticals, and Orapharma — to his colleagues, King will become chief operating officer of Principia Pharmaceutical Corp., a relatively new biotech venture fund based in King of Prussia, Pa. King has been a staple in Morgan’s business and finance practice since joining the firm directly out of Harvard Law School in 1974. During that time, the transactional attorney built up a strong practice that shifted toward biotechnology and e-commerce clients after he began representing Cephalon, a biopharmaceutical company involved in the discovery, development, and marketing of products to treat neurological disorders and cancer, upon its formation in 1987. With the addition of partner Steve Goodman in recent years, the duo gave Morgan one of the elite emerging-growth practices in the area, according to several of their colleagues at other Philadelphia firms. While King said he was never happier or more successful at Morgan Lewis than he has been in recent years, and while he has turned down “hundreds” of similar offers from clients in the past, this one was too good to pass up. “I know this flies in the face of logic, but I’ve actually received more offers as I’ve grown older,” King said. “It’s probably because of this tremendous economy we have now. It makes the market for sophisticated businesspeople incredible. The demand has increased dramatically, and the offers become more attractive. “And this one just didn’t have any warts on it. Great investors, great scientists, it’s in the area. And being a CEO at the early stages of development is a unique opportunity and something completely different that you experience as an attorney at a law firm.” Morgan Lewis managing partner of operations Tom Sharbaugh called King’s departure “a huge loss” but said it’s not very surprising in today’s legal market. “Good business lawyers will receive a lot of these kinds of inquiries,” Sharbaugh said, noting that the firm lost partners such as Jeffrey Klauder (Safeguard Scientific) and Edward Cloues (K-Tron International) to CEO jobs — not to mention the recent loss of tax partner Robert Comfort, who moved to Seattle and joined Amazon.com’s legal department. “David found one that obviously interested him. Fortunately, we have a huge practice and a lot of younger partners we hope will step up and fill in those shoes. We tell our recruits that one of the advantages of working here is that they’ll get these kinds of opportunities. What this means is that law firms will have to be more like accounting firms, who regularly lose their people to clients, by just hiring in larger numbers. And we’ve done that here. In the last year, we’ve had a net gain of 32 lawyers.” King is best known for his work as co-head of the venture capital and emerging business practice, where he represents several capital firms in their investment activities and many high-tech corporations that typically seek funding from venture-capital sources. Aside from his work in the life sciences realm, King has built a stable of high-tech clients. Recently, he helped an e-commerce venture called Half.com complete a meteoric rise when it was purchased by eBay for $375 million seven months after its inception. King has been involved in the founding and development of several companies. He was a founder of Visual Technology Inc. and Datawatch Corp., manufacturers of terminals and computer systems. And he is a director of Cephalon and 3 Dimensional Pharmaceuticals. He said the addition of Goodman to the practice made the firm a force in the emerging-growth arena. “I view the joining of Steve Goodman and David King as one of the biggest and most successful unions this [city's legal community] has ever seen,” King said. “We hoped one plus one would equal three, but it could end up equaling 300. I couldn’t have asked for a better person to work with.” The move to a CEO position continues the pattern of senior transactional lawyers heading in that direction. Drinker Biddle & Reath’s Robert Strause joined American Manufacturers; Pepper Hamilton’s Lee Hitchner joined Meridian Venture Partners; and Dechert’s Henry Nassau joined Internet Capital Group. “I bet you would have never seen this 10 years ago,” Drinker business and finance chair Jack Michel said. “Rightly or wrongly, I think lawyers view the technology of today as an opportunity that only comes around once every 200 or 300 years. It’s a whole new kind of industrial revolution. So they see this as a watershed event, and it’s a completely new challenge for them.” Pepper Hamilton executive committee chairman Barry Abelson, also a top technology-geared transactional lawyer, said he spoke to King and was pleased that he seemed happy with the move. But he said he hates to see senior attorneys leaving the profession behind. “The amount of focus we put on recruiting and retaining associates, we need to start doing that with senior partners,” Abelson said. “You have to make sure they continue to feel challenged and motivated with their work or else they’ll pursue new challenges elsewhere.” Philadelphia-based Cozen & O’Connor’s Michael Heller, another high-profile venture capital transactional attorney, said when someone of King’s stature moves in-house, attorneys from competing firms swarm around looking to pick up any possible wandering clients. “It definitely opens the opportunity for other firms to develop relationships,” Heller said. “You can try and solidify [client] relationships, but you always lose some of them when someone like David leaves.” King, though, said Morgan’s emphasis on teamwork will enable other attorneys to step up and assume larger roles with his clients. He said he does not anticipate many defections. King departs at the end of August but will be available to Morgan Lewis for transitional assistance for an additional month.

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