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Long past its adolescence, 74-year-old San Francisco-based Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison is in the midst of a dramatic growth spurt. In the past eight months, the firm has hired 210 attorneys, bringing the total number of full-time-equivalent lawyers firmwide to 750. The figure represents a 39 percent increase in Brobeck’s size since the end of last August. Of the new hires, 170 have joined the firm since Jan. 1. “The numbers are remarkable,” Brobeck chairman Tower Snow Jr. said. “It’s the largest growth spurt in Brobeck’s history.” While other top San Francisco Bay Area firms also have expanded their ranks, Brobeck’s growth is by far the greatest. Cooley Godward comes in second with a 33.7 percent increase, adding 141 attorneys since last August for a total of 560. Snow attributed the increase in Brobeck’s size to the growth of existing clients, the influx of new clients and heightened interest in the firm among attorneys. “We went through some days where institutionally we received 200 r�sum�s a day,” Snow added. Snow believes the firm’s hike in associate compensation in January helped generate interest in Brobeck. “My own perception is that when we raised associate compensation levels we eliminated the disparity between us and New York firms,” Snow said. “We got hundreds of r�sum�s from New York associates” who have a better chance of making partner at Brobeck, as well as the opportunity to work with technology clients, he added. The swelling of its ranks has put Brobeck close on the heels of Morrison & Foerster for positioning as the largest Bay Area firm. MoFo now has 780 full-time-equivalent attorneys, a 14.4 percent increase since last August. However, the figure for MoFo is somewhat skewed since the firm has a significant number of part-time attorneys. MoFo chairman Stephen Dunham said “well over 50″ attorneys work part time. By comparison, Brobeck has 19 part-time attorneys. Other firms with a high-tech client base also experienced significant growth. Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati has increased its ranks by 17.7 percent to 625 lawyers and Fenwick & West jumped 20 percent to 252 attorneys since August. “We’ve been growing as fast as we felt that we responsibly could over the last two or three years,” Wilson Sonsini managing partner Alan Austin said. “[Responsible] in the sense that we have to absorb people, train them and mentor them, and that constrains what you can do.” Austin said Wilson’s policy has been to hire at least one lateral for every person who leaves “and in times of extreme need, as we’ve had recently, more than that, maybe 1.2 laterals.” Among other top Bay Area firms, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe inched up 5 percent to 550 attorneys; Pillsbury Madison & Sutro edged up 5.7 percent to 518; Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe increased its ranks by 13 percent to 473; and Gray Care Ware & Freidenrich grew 13.8 percent to 364. Cooley’s growth has occurred primarily outside California, firmwide managing partner Lee Benton said. “It’s a lot easier to recruit people and get them to stay outside California than inside California,” Benton said. “The housing prices are at their highest in Silicon Valley” and the dot-com phenomenon is strongest here. Most of Cooley’s new hires have been in its Reston, Va., office. A year after opening, the outpost now has 60 attorneys. Brobeck’s growth also has been predominantly outside the Bay Area. Of the 210 new attorneys, approximately 45 joined the firm’s Palo Alto office and about 30 joined the San Francisco headquarters. Like Cooley, most of Brobeck’s growth has been within its business and technology group. During the first four months of the year, the group added 142 lawyers firmwide. While Brobeck has been on a hiring binge, it also has seen a 50 percent drop in attrition this year. Snow attributes the improved retention to the firm’s boost in associate compensation and the current market volatility. “Much more scrutiny is being given by our people to the risk of moving to clients,” Snow said. For example, he noted that one associate in San Francisco left the firm for a start-up on April 14. The company had its venture financing pulled the next day and on April 16 the associate asked to come back to Brobeck. The associate returned the next day. Benton agrees that the market downturn may alleviate associate retention. “Dot-com companies can’t offer the pie in the sky they were a few months ago,” Benton said. Burnout also may be reduced, he added, since corporate and securities attorneys are now “getting to go home on the weekend.” The capricious nature of the market also may make firms wary of being in a position of having too many attorneys when the work load subsides. Such was the situation for many firms that laid off attorneys during the economic downturn in the late 1980s and early ’90s. Don Oppenheim, of the legal consulting company Altman Weil Inc., said it is “scary for law firm management” to have the kind of growth Brobeck has had. But, he added, “I don’t think firms perceive they have a choice when there is such demand in certain practices.” Brobeck is confident that it can absorb any future turbulence. “A change in the market might slow our growth but not put us backwards,” Snow said. “Even if there was a dramatic slowdown, we would protect our people” and partners would absorb the financial hit. Snow contends it is better to be prepared to handle an influx of work. Firms that laid attorneys off in the 1980s and early ’90s, he said, “were understaffed and couldn’t take advantage of the renewed vigor in the market.”

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