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Gil Silberman knows his cell phone won’t work way out in the northern Nevada desert, but it’s coming with him anyway. He doesn’t plan on giving out any business cards either, but they are stashed away somewhere among his belongings, maybe next to his laptop. “I hid them,” the technology lawyer says softly, knowing that his fellow travelers to the annual Burning Man festival probably wouldn’t approve of these items. Need them or not, they’re going along. “It’s my security blanket,” he says. A handful of lawyers and staff from San Francisco-based Thelen Reid & Priest’s emerging companies practice piled into a 34-foot-long recreational vehicle and headed to the Black Rock Desert Thursday morning for what is officially a firm-sponsored function for client development — a junket to Burning Man. But as you might expect, it is really much more than that. “They are people we would be hanging out with if we weren’t lawyers,” Silberman said. “But we have to justify this, because we have to turn in the expense receipts to the firm.” Now in its 15th year, Burning Man has been alternately described as a hippie happening, a primitive pagan rite and a cyberfestival. Participants create a makeshift city on the khaki-colored playa, carting in their own supplies, displaying art and, yes, actually burning a man — albeit a five-story, wooden one. Whatever it is, the festival — held 150 miles north of Reno — attracts a diverse crowd. Those making the pilgrimage include Bay Area exhibitionists, artists, disconnected urbanites, well-connected techno-professionals, thrill seekers — oh yeah, and sometimes lawyers. The festival began as a simple ritual on a San Francisco beach, then became a free-for-all in the desert for many years. But recently, participants have been creating what they call an artistically enlightened temporary model of contemporary civilization. As free-spirited as Burning Man is, participants are expected to observe a certain form of etiquette. Some might frown on a law firm courting clients at the festival. Silberman says the group is conscious of those concerns. “Law associates are not always the most practical people, so we encourage them to bring sunscreen and not talk too much about business,” Silberman said. “When we get there, our clients are going to be there, our potential clients are going to be there, and people we are suing are going to be there.” The boundaries between personal and professional life are fuzzy in the legal technology world, Silberman explains. Many of their clients are in the same office building as they are — on Second Street in San Francisco’s SOMA district. They go to the same parties and share the same friends as clients — they know each other’s children. “We haven’t really learned the boundaries,” Silberman admits. And so it makes sense that they go to Burning Man together and reconnect. “We’re not here for business; it just happens to work out that way,” says Niki Marold, the marketing and ad coordinator for the practice group. And besides, “If you want to do business, you might as well do it with your friends.”

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