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Eager to be a part of Northern Virginia’s technology explosion, Pillsbury Winthrop is expanding its presence in the region to 100 lawyers. “A lot of people are putting satellites out there to test the waters, and we’re coming out there with a solid commitment,” said the firm’s regional managing partner Paul Sharer, referring to the offices opened in the area by other national law firms. “We’ll be the first name players out there in a big way.” The San Francisco-based firm is building — from the ground up — space for 120 lawyers in Reston, Va.’s Tysons Corner. The building is expected to be completed by June. The firm will close its Washington, D.C., office on New York Avenue and ship out most of the office’s 85 lawyers to join the 15 lawyers already in a smaller space in Virginia’s Dulles Corridor. Pillsbury will keep about 20 lawyers in its D.C. office on Connecticut Avenue, which it gained in its January merger with New York’s Winthrop, Stimson, Putnam & Roberts. That group focuses largely on regulatory and administrative law. Pillsbury managing partner Marina Park said the decision was initiated by lawyers in the Washington, D.C., office. The catalyst, she said, was the fact that the New York Avenue office’s lease is up in a little over a year. Avery Ellis, a recruiter and managing director of Mestel & Co., said Pillsbury will be placing the largest body of lawyers so far into the Northern Virginia area. He said Morgan Lewis is opening up in Northern Virginia with between 30 and 50 lawyers, and that Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld is trying to build its 30-lawyer McLean, Va., office up to 50 lawyers. San Francisco Bay Area firms, such as Cooley Godward with 85, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati with 26, and Morrison & Foerster with 17, are already in Northern Virginia. “That’s where the potential clients are, not D.C.,” Ellis said. “It’s all just lawyers sitting around in Washington, and it makes a lot more sense to have this much depth going out to Northern Virginia.” Technology companies in the area include America Online Inc., MCI WorldCom, MicroStrategy and Web Methods. But some lawyers insist that there’s little advantage to being in Northern Virginia, which is seven or eight miles outside of Washington and at least a 40-minute drive during rush hour. “We’re sort of agnostic about it,” said Nora Garrote, head of Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison’s technology group, who works in Washington. “We have not had any obstacle or impediment in having our Northern Virginia clients served from this office.” Still, Park said Pillsbury is confident it can be successful by replicating the model of the Silicon Valley office, where attorneys “marry up” IP resources with the firm’s corporate practice. Jonathan Aberman, head of Pillsbury’s corporate group for the Washington region, said the firm’s 15-lawyer Virginia office has seen its “corporate practice explode” since opening the office in June of 1999. “We see it as a long-term market that is probably the most important market a law firm can be in.” Clients the firm has done financing and other corporate work for include Transora, AES Corp., Converge Inc., TEOCO Corp., Appian Partners, Iomai Corp., Webversa and Intel Capital. In the third and fourth quarter of last year, Pillsbury did 11 deals valued at $55 million in that region, according to Legal Times. In contrast, D.C. area tech powerhouse firms like Cooley Godward, Piper Marbury Rudnick & Wolfe and Hogan & Hartson each did third- and fourth-quarter deals valued at more than $500 million. A managing partner of a national law firm that ranks among the top handful in Northern Virginia says Pillsbury has a ways to go. “In the VC and emerging company space they don’t show up a whole lot,” he said. Pillsbury has a lot of depth in IP but not in the corporate space, the partner said. “If a local VC is thinking which good law firm to push towards a company they’ll give four or five names, and Pillsbury will never be on that list.” Park noted that the firm is making inroads into the market. “If you look at the firms coming in there as outsiders, we’re right in there building market share.”

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