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Boom times have made California’s high-tech law firms a mecca for out-of-state attorneys, say recruiters and those doing the hiring. And they claim the State Bar’s lack of reciprocity has done little to slow the surge in applicants — except for litigation specialists. “There’s definitely been an explosion because so many people want to come to California,” says Molly Lane, a partner in Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison’s Palo Alto office who chairs the firmwide hiring committee. Brobeck has hired more than 200 lateral associates since January, swelling its 540-lawyer roster by nearly 40 percent. More partners are being hired as well, she notes. Lane is quick to point out that not all those new hires come from out-of-state, but she adds that the firm doesn’t hesitate to hire good prospects, wherever they hail from. “We have such a need for talented folks that we don’t get too hung up over the Bar,” she says. Anyway, “the majority of folks we hire from out-of-state pass the Bar the first time.” That may be due to the firm’s Bar exam policy, which gives candidates a number of weeks off with pay to study, as well as covering all the expenses involved. It’s not that Brobeck is deliberately recruiting outside California, she says, so much as reaping the results of the state’s reputation. “California’s firms were the first to lead the charge in upping associates’ salaries,” Lane notes, and as a leader in high-tech practices, “[the state] is seen as the place to be, a big part of the future in the legal market.” This specialist in complex litigation notes one major exception to the “out-of-state is just as good” attitude. In her litigation division, “we prefer California Bar candidates,” she says. “It’s much more important to have someone up and running; we want them out taking depositions.” Avis Caravello, who heads an attorney search firm in San Francisco, agrees. “Lack of the California Bar really stands in the way at associate level [in litigation],” she says. “Unless you are incredibly stellar, you won’t be well-received.” Still, she says, there are plenty of jobs out there. Placing attorneys these days, she says, is like doing triage: “The corporate need is emergency, and litigation is [just] a great need.” The head of another big search firm, this one San Diego-based Watanabe & Nason, also points to a massive wave of high-tech new hires in the last year, many of them newly recruited from out-of-state. While instituting reciprocity would cause an even greater influx of attorneys, Larry Watanabe says, the Bar exam is not a major hurdle now for his mostly corporate recruits. What is? The cost of living in Palo Alto and San Diego, he says, with real estate prices staggering lawyers even from top-flight firms in places like Kansas City. With the demand so dramatically increased, especially for IP, technical and corporate law specialists, even partners are being recruited — and that’s one area where the Bar’s lack of reciprocity also has a noticeable impact. “Once a partner has an established practice, especially in IP,” says Watanabe, “he doesn’t want to take the Bar again — for a whole variety of reasons. Partly, I think, because they’re afraid they’ll fail.”

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