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Nixon Peabody has expanded on the West Coast for the first time in a merger with Lillick & Charles, a 70-attorney firm based in San Francisco. The 500-lawyer Nixon Peabody, which was founded in Rochester, N.Y., has grown aggressively in its own time zone in recent years, with 10 branch offices along the East Coast. But co-managing partner Harry P. Trueheart III said Nixon Peabody had long been looking for a merger partner with an established presence in California. At Lillick & Charles, a 104-year-old firm with strengths in banking, commercial litigation and international trade, managing partner John M. Rosenthal echoed that notion, explaining that the need for national reach had become an imperative for his firm. “In the next five years, the strongest competitors in the legal marketplace will be large national firms that are able to serve businesses with a full array of services in most of the nation’s major business and technology centers,” Rosenthal said. “To be a credible player in this market, law firms must serve and have a presence in those centers, and that’s what this merger accomplishes for both firms and our clients.” When the merger takes effect on Aug. 1, Nixon Peabody will acquire a roughly 65-lawyer office in San Francisco plus a four-attorney outpost in Costa Mesa in Orange County, Calif. Nixon Peabody currently has about 120 lawyers in both Rochester and Boston, 75 in Manhattan and 40 in Garden City, L.I. The firm’s other offices are in: Washington, D.C.; McLean, Va.; Buffalo; Albany; Providence, R.I.; Manchester, N.H.; and Hartford, Conn. The firms were referred to one another about 18 months ago by a mutual client, the San Francisco-based private equity firm Horsley Bridge Partners, whose managing director, Alfred Giuffrida, is a former Nixon Hargrave partner. (In 1999 Nixon Hargarve merged with Peabody Brown and became Nixon Peabody.) Leaders of both firms said they considered the involvement of a client an auspicious sign for the merger negotiations. “It was a nice introduction to have,” Trueheart said. Ironically, the deal with Nixon Peabody represents a delayed return to large-firm status for many Lillick & Charles lawyers. In the late 1980s, the firm, then known as Lillick, McHose & Charles, numbered more than 250 attorneys. But the 170-strong Los Angeles branch split from the San Francisco office in 1988 over client conflicts. The Los Angeles office, which became Lillick & McHose, merged with San Francisco’s Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro in 1991, in what was then the largest-ever law firm merger, involving 625 lawyers. Nixon Peabody has become increasingly busy in California in recent years, Trueheart said, working on behalf of traditional clients such as Xerox Corp. and Eastman Kodak Company and in the areas of venture capital, energy and the wine industry. Lillick & Charles’ clients in New York include Deutsche Bank AG, JP Morgan Chase & Co. and several large insurance companies. Lillick & Charles will be given two positions on Nixon Peabody’s 20-member governing committee and one spot on the firm’s eight-partner operating committee. Some attorneys at both firms will take advantage of the merger to move to new quarters — integrating the firms further. Trueheart also said there are plans to open an office in Los Angeles, with a mix of home-grown attorneys and lateral hires. “The commitment to California is long-term,” he said.

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