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Linked by the Beltway, Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C.’s Maryland suburbs are only minutes apart. But the dynamics in their legal markets could not be more different. While law firms in Northern Virginia are charging forward with unprecedented growth, there have been no significant increases in the size or number of firms in the Maryland suburbs in the last year. But as Northern Virginia continues to expand rapidly, the Maryland firms may be forced to change, if only to react to the strong pull they are starting to feel from Tysons Corner, Va. “Montgomery County is a great place to live, a great place to work, and the economy is strong. But if you’re looking at a bursting area, that’s Northern Virginia,” says David Pordy, managing partner of Rockville, Md.’s Shulman, Rogers, Gandal, Pordy & Ecker. And Northern Virginia is bursting like never before. The Reston, Va., office of Palo Alto, Calif.’s Cooley Godward doubled in size from 26 lawyers to 52 at the time of this year’s survey of Northern Virginia’s 15 Largest Law Offices. The increase moved Cooley from last place to No. 7 on the list. Partner in charge Joseph Conroy says the office has grown by 28 lawyers since the survey was taken, although he adds, “In certain respects that looks like explosive growth, but we haven’t grown as quickly as we could have.” Other firms also made large leaps. The McLean, Va., office of D.C.’s Hogan & Hartson moved from No. 10 to No. 5 with the addition of 18 lawyers, and the McLean outpost of D.C.’s Shaw Pittman jumped up to No. 4 from No. 7, with 14 new attorneys bringing the total in the office to 54. Arlington, Va.’s Oblon, Spivak, McClelland, Maier & Neustadt hired 12 additional attorneys, which allowed it to keep its No. 2 spot over fast-moving McGuireWoods. The McLean office of McGuireWoods expanded by 30 lawyers, landing at No. 3 with 71 total attorneys. Despite the rapid growth of other firms, Alexandria, Va.’s Burns, Doane, Swecker & Mathis held on to its No. 1 spot, with 76 lawyers, a five-lawyer increase over last year. At the other end, three homegrown firms fell off of the list: Vienna, Va.’s 25-lawyer Wickwire Gavin; Arlington’s 21-lawyer Bean, Kinney & Korman; and Reston’s 20-lawyer Greenblum & Bernstein. And if the growth in Northern Virginia continues, as many law firm partners expect, others hovering at the bottom of the rankings may no longer see their names listed next year. “We’re going to be on the order of 90 [attorneys] by the time we move in the first week of November to our new space,” says Shaw Pittman firmwide managing partner Paul Mickey Jr. “We are moving all of the people from our current offices [to Tysons Corner], and we’re adding people from other practices who want to be out there. We’re going to see continued growth. I’d be surprised if we didn’t go into three figures.” Pillsbury Madison & Sutro expects to have 90 or so lawyers in Northern Virginia by spring, as it shifts nearly all of its D.C. lawyers to Tysons Corner. Hogan & Hartson is expecting the same sort of expansion, and partner Gerald Gilbert explains that the Northern Virginia market makes the addition of lawyers necessary. “It’s just the increased workload. I’d be very surprised if the office doesn’t reach 100 in the next few years,” he says. “The workload has increased about 25 percent this year across the board,” agrees Oblon Spivak managing partner Marvin Spivak. The intellectual property firm is looking to add 12 of its patent agents and two of its technical advisers to its attorney roster when they graduate from law school in the near future. Along with the added personnel, the firm is contemplating a move from its Arlington offices, next to the current headquarters of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, to space in Alexandria, near the new location of the PTO. The Alexandria office will not be a branch location for the firm; any move will encompass the entire office. “We could more efficiently manage and service our clients by being all under the same roof,” says Spivak. A CHALLENGE AND AN OPPORTUNITY But quick expansion and moves into new spaces can change the atmosphere of any law office, especially one where the office has been so small that even the highest-ranking partner knows each associate by face and name, and where the entire firm has been located on just one floor. Partners in charge say they are watching out for any potential problems that increased size may bring. “We’re still small enough where we have periodic meetings and social events,” says Hogan & Hartson’s Gilbert. “The atmosphere definitely changes, but we’re not, by any stretch, a huge office yet.” Cooley Godward’s Conroy, whose office is presently triple the size it was last year, says, “Our biggest challenge is managing that very steep growth, and making sure you preserve an office environment.” On the other hand, some managing partners see the growth as nothing but opportunity for their firms. “You get a greater sense of energy as you gather greater critical mass,” contends Mickey. Oblon Spivak will likely find its expansion to Alexandria easier to handle than those firms eyeing Reston or Tysons Corner, where office space is at a premium. Some firms in Fairfax County have even been holding onto empty office space in case of future growth. For example, Mickey says Shaw Pittman decided not to sublet any of the extra space in its new Tysons Corner offices, believing that it will need it. And Hogan & Hartson has been grabbing space in its building whenever it can. “We’ve been very fortunate because we have options on space in our building. But it really is a problem here,” says Gilbert. The same troubles do not exist in the Maryland suburbs. The rankings on “Suburban Maryland’s 15 Largest Law Offices” are essentially unchanged from 1999, with most movement in the list attributable to changes of only around two to five attorneys. Shulman Rogers again landed in the top spot, with 65 attorneys. Silver Spring, Md.’s Linowes and Blocher increased by five attorneys, but remained at No. 2, and Bethesda, Md.’s Lerch, Early & Brewer stayed steady at No. 3, with no change in size. Because one of the nation’s premier biotechnology markets is located along I-270 in Montgomery County, it can be puzzling to outsiders why many firms from downtown Washington or elsewhere have not tried to plant themselves in the Maryland suburbs lately. Insiders know that, at the present time, Maryland does not have Virginia’s unending appetite for growth, or the infrastructure needed to support a similar boom. “Things don’t happen here as fast. Citizen activists are extremely powerful,” says Shulman Rogers’ Pordy. “The intercounty connector has been on the boards for 30 years, and they’re not even close to breaking ground. That’s not something that increases growth.” Partner Paul DiPiazza of Lerch Early thinks that larger firms may be staying out of the area due to “a sense that they can serve the suburban Maryland market from D.C.” But these assumptions are not always correct, he cautions. “Real estate, land use, commercial litigation – all of these things require you to be on the ground in Montgomery County. Intellectual property, international tax, securities, venture capital work, IPOs, mergers and acquisitions — all of these are things that don’t require you to be in the county,” says DiPiazza. So far, few Maryland attorneys have been crossing the river to Northern Virginia to jump into that market. But Montgomery County firms are starting to feel a strain. “It has affected our recruitment. We’re still able to recruit excellent people, but more of the competition has been with firms in Northern Virginia” rather than in the District, says Pordy. For example, Shulman Rogers recently lost an immigration recruit to a California firm opening an office in Northern Virginia. “We’ve not had the situation where groups of attorneys have been hired away from the Maryland firms,” says Andrew Goldstein, managing partner of Linowes and Blocher. “I’m not going to say that you won’t see efforts to do that in the future.” The promise of higher salaries may eventually pressure practice groups to make the move to Northern Virginia. “We are not — nor do I think are other Maryland firms –at the pay levels that are at downtown firms, but we try to offer things in addition to salary that we think associates will find attractive,” says Goldstein, who points to direct client contact, an intensive training program, and a relaxed atmosphere. And sometimes not following the crowd works out. “A lot of our clients look to us as a [cost-effective] alternative to the big downtown firms,” says DiPiazza. “We can do many of the things that the big firms can do.”

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