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Northern Virginia’s newfound role as a home to high-technology companies, combined with its proximity to the seat of the federal government, has enabled the legal market here to surge further and faster than other markets throughout the country. The result is that right now there’s a wide array of traditional and nontraditional opportunities for recent law school graduates as well as for experienced attorneys seeking a change. As high-tech companies based in Northern Virginia expand and new companies form, law firms that cater to these companies are moving en masse into the Dulles Corridor and Tysons Corner. More than 25 of the Washington D.C. metro area’s largest law firms and dozens of other West Coast and Northeast firms have established or are looking to establish branches in Northern Virginia. In fact, one of the largest law firms in Virginia is now Cooley Godward, a California firm with nearly 40 attorneys in its Reston, Va. branch. Each of these establishments has created an increased need for legal counsel in all areas, but particularly in general corporate and intellectual property work. Indeed, among the commonwealth’s largest firms are several Northern Virginia firms — including Nixon & Vanderhye and Oblon, Spivak, McClelland, Maier & Neustadt — that almost exclusively practice in the intellectual property arena. As a result, the time is ripe for attorneys with intellectual property or corporate backgrounds. Branch offices need and want experienced attorneys who require little training. Not surprisingly, lateral hiring has soared in Northern Virginia firms in the past two years. At the same time, according to the National Association for Law Placement (NALP), major employers on the East Coast have reported losing law students and recent graduates to Northern Virginia offices of newly arrived firms and start-up technology companies. George Mason University School of Law’s fall and spring recruiting programs have seen a substantial increase in Northern Virginia employer participants. In particular, students with electrical engineering and biotech backgrounds have received record numbers of offers and are being lured into working full-time in the high-tech arena. These offers are so attractive that full-time students are converting to part-time law programs to accommodate employer requests. With opportunity knocking, attorneys looking to practice in Northern Virginia firms should explore whether a merger is imminent for a potential employer. The desire to acquire or increase intellectual property and corporate practices has driven numerous mergers and acquisitions in the past two years. Indeed, some of the most respected and established firms in Northern Virginia have undergone such changes in the past six to eight months, including Venable; Shaw Pittman; Hazel & Thomas; and Sixbey, Friedman, Leedom & Ferguson. Of course, mergers are intended to make firms stronger and more competitive. Yet mergers can also lead to dramatic changes in culture, expectations, and compensation. New and experienced attorneys need to make sure they are negotiating with the appropriate hiring personnel or partners in this evolving market. As firms have established branch offices or undergone mergers with other firms, there has been some confusion about to whom and to which office to apply and some delay in processing applications. Wise applicants will always check with the home office’s recruiting coordinator or hiring partner — in both firms if the merger process is still under way — while simultaneously pursuing any personal contacts with attorneys actually practicing in Northern Virginia. CHANGING ROLES FOR LAWYERS Placement offices and legal recruiters also have seen growth in nontraditional opportunities for lawyers in Northern Virginia. In the past few years, area firms have hired lawyers to consult, lobby, and institute professional development programs for young attorneys. In addition, firms have increased the number of attorney positions that are not traditional associate slots. Lawyers now are routinely hired as contract attorneys, project attorneys, or staff attorneys. The names of these positions vary from firm to firm. These positions enable lawyers to get their foot in the door in particular practice areas or with particular firms. Often, these less-traditional positions enable a lawyer to practice solely in a desired area or to have more flexibility in terms of hours or billing requirements. A downside to these positions is that they may not lead to traditional associate promotions or be included in the latest salary hikes. Another downside to these less-than-traditional positions: They can be difficult to find unless job seekers know where to look for them. Firm Web sites or National Association for Law Placement forms (forms generated by the NALP that many firms, particularly large or nationally known firms, complete) may not describe alternative positions for J.D. applicants. Area recruiters and personal contacts are often the best source for sleuthing out the availability of such positions. The high-tech boom has also spurred firms to migrate into new business ventures as they invest in clients in new ways. Northern Virginia home and branch offices have begun establishing consulting entities and venture funds in the hopes of tapping into the high-tech market. For example, one of Virginia’s most famous home-grown firms, McGuire, Woods, Battle & Boothe, has established McGuire Woods Consulting, and the firm reportedly is exploring expanding the scope of business services provided by the consulting group. Other firms have adopted the West Coast trend of nontraditional fee arrangements, including direct investment in clients or payments in clients’ stock. And just recently, Nixon Peabody, which has a sizable McLean office, announced it is establishing a firm-operated incubator for start-up companies. These new business ventures raise ethical and business concerns for firms. Explains Bradford Brown, chairman of the National Center for Technology and Law, housed in George Mason University School of Law: “Competition among law firms to capture Northern Virginia businesses is forcing law firms to re-evaluate their roles and business opportunities. Strict ethical guidelines have not yet been developed to respond to these new fee arrangements and business partnerships. In short, this is an evolving situation.” Therefore, new and experienced attorneys looking for high-tech work in Northern Virginia should explore their potential employers’ propensity to evolve in and attract the high-tech market. Important factors to consider include whether the firm appears to have explored the ethical and business ramifications of less-than-traditional ventures. Applicants should question whether firms expect to bring on consultants and M.B.A.s or establish foundations to manage these new arrangements, and how these new ventures affect compensation and liability for associates and partners. TRICKLE-DOWN EFFECT In addition to the growth in the intellectual property and corporate areas, the business expansion and attendant population growth in Northern Virginia have generated an increased need for attorneys in numerous other practice areas, including: REAL ESTATE: Real estate attorneys have long been in need in ever-developing Northern Virginia. They appear to be in even more demand in the past year by companies and law firms seeking to lease, purchase, or develop real estate. Attorneys are also in demand as newly arriving high-tech employees purchase, lease, or expand residences. EMPLOYMENT/IMMIGRATION: The demand for employment and immigration lawyers is on the rise as Northern Virginia companies increase in staff members, including many technology-oriented employees born outside the country, and establish full-fledged human resources departments. GENERAL PRACTICE: Notwithstanding the boom in intellectual property and information technology, the largest sections in the Arlington, Fairfax, and Virginia bar associations and in the Virginia State Bar remain general practice concerns including litigation, family law, and law practice management. Indeed, in the past six months, George Mason University School of Law’s Career Development office has experienced increased requests for part-time and full-time help in small to midsize Northern Virginia general practice firms. SECURITIES AND BANKRUPTCY: According to recent news reports and NALP surveys suggesting volatile times ahead, Northern Virginia should also begin seeing an increased need for securities litigators and bankruptcy attorneys. Northern Virginia law firms are not the only ones to feel the growing pains associated with the high-tech boom. According to Ilene G. Reid, executive director of the Washington Metropolitan Area Corporate Counsel Association, the number of in-house lawyers working in the metropolitan area has grown dramatically. WMACCA’s membership is now more than 600, and speculation abounds that in-house positions will increase if law firms raise billing rates to accommodate increased associate salaries. Moreover, although in-house work has traditionally been reserved for experienced attorneys, some placement offices have seen an increase in the number of companies seeking help from law graduates and students. In the past two years, for example, an increasing number of George Mason University students and graduates have been employed by MCI Worldcom, Qwest, and America Online. With the rise of the technology sector has come new ways to connect with potential work opportunities. New and experienced attorneys looking to establish themselves in the Northern Virginia area can and should take advantage of the expanding training and networking opportunities provided by area bar associations and legal education programs. Northern Virginia hosts more than 10 local and state bar associations that boast thousands of members. In addition, federal and regional bar associations, including the Federal Bar Association, the Federal Communications Bar Association, and the Women’s Bar Association of D.C., have active members based in Northern Virginia. To accommodate the high-tech boom, almost all have well-established information technology or telecommunications sections. The area has also witnessed a proliferation of intellectual property or technology-focused courses for experienced attorneys and law students. Recent continuing legal education courses offered by the Virginia State Bar, the George Mason Law Alumni Association, and Georgetown University Law Center include handling, mergers, and acquisitions in high-tech and emerging growth environments; advanced computer law; the law of internet business; electronic commerce: exploring the legal and business interface; and strategies for high-tech transactions. This past year, GMU School of Law established a National Center for Technology and Law, a research center in which policy-makers and the business and legal communities explore legal and policy proposals aimed at encouraging technological progress and economic growth. Law students are enjoying access to these and other cutting-edge programs. Both George Washington University and GMU are home to nationally recognized intellectual property programs, and GMU currently offers over 27 courses in the intellectual property and information technology areas. In short, the opportunities for both new and experienced attorneys right now are many and varied, as are the resources to be tapped. The growth of the technology sector has changed the legal landscape in Northern Virginia, and it may never look the same as it did just a few years ago. Victoria M. Huber is assistant dean and director of career development and alumni services at George Mason University School of Law. Before joining GMU in 1997, she practiced at Covington & Burling and clerked for Judge Francis Murnaghan on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. Ilissa Belanger is the assistant director of career development and alumni services at GMU School of Law, where she has worked since 1993. Virginia Waller is the assistant director for J.D. counseling and market development at GMU School of Law. Before joining GMU in the fall of 1999, she practiced in the corporate arena at Shaw Pittman and O’Melveny & Myers

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