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Laura DeFelice employs a rainmaking strategy that is so straightforward, it almost seems simplistic: Find a perfect match between partner and firm, and watch the deals roll in. When she made a lateral move from Mayer, Brown & Platt to Latham & Watkins in January 2000, it was certainly a mutually beneficial move. Latham has always counted many investment banks among its clients, and DeFelice had been doing asset-backed securities work for investment banks for nearly 15 years, amassing a client list that largely overlapped Latham’s in several other practice areas. She also offered the experience necessary to become lead partner in the practice area. The result: In 2000, the year DeFelice moved to the firm, Latham nearly doubled its number of asset-backed securities deals. In 1999 Latham was issuer’s counsel on nine public asset-backed deals, with a total value of about $5.5 billion. Last year it increased that number to 16 public deals worth nearly $10 billion. “Most of the increase was because of [DeFelice],” said David Rogers, managing partner of Latham’s finance practice, who attributes the increase to her many contacts in the field. “Clients just like her, they call her up. Our strategy has been pretty boring and pretty simple, but it’s not just legal-oriented,” Rogers says. “Externally, clients like her. Internally she has provided the necessary leadership for the practice area.” (Asset-backed securities are bonds sold against future income. The securitized earnings can be generated by nearly anything, from a rock band’s income to an award from litigation.) DeFelice, 41, was not brought in by senior management just because of the names in her Rolodex. Her mandate at Latham was to organize the firm’s growing structured finance practice. When she arrived, Latham’s structured-finance lawyers were closing deals nationwide out of offices in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, including utilities securitization and entertainment asset projects (securitizing the future profits of arenas, movies, and other entertainment industry enterprises). There were, however, distinct groups within the practice area that were doing similar work. “People didn’t seem to be aware of the overlap, and that was my first job,” says DeFelice, who began consolidating the groups in the three offices. Working out of New York, DeFelice brought together the 12 partners, four of counsel, and handful of associates who were already doing structured finance and pulled in a few partners from the fringes of the firm’s asset-backed securities practice. Now most of Latham’s asset-backed work is done out of the same three offices, but with more central organization. “Because we were better organized and more focused,” she says, “partners who had dabbled in [asset-backed securities work] now focused on it.” Bringing in some lateral hires swelled the ranks even further, to nearly 30. DeFelice spent much of the first year on the road, pitching the firm’s full-service capabilities to investment banks that were already Latham clients in other practice areas. Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette International, which had been DeFelice’s client at Mayer Brown, is also a client of Latham’s. DeFelice led a transatlantic collateralized debt obligation (CDO) offering for the bank, which has since merged with Credit Suisse First Boston. (Last year saw a substantial increase in CDOs as more banks have discovered this highly effective means of both arbitrage and “capital relief” — by securitizing their loan obligations, banks are able to get loans off their books and thus to free up more capital for additional loans.) “A lot of our relationships venture from the investment banks,” DeFelice says. DeFelice networked heavily through the banks and landed work on many big asset-backed CDO deals and other securitization deals. She led a deal securitizing auto lease agreements for Deutsche Bank AG and CDO offerings for CIBC World Markets and Goldman, Sachs & Co., all Latham clients in other areas. While the deal increase during her first year at Latham will prove difficult to top, DeFelice has been working to avoid a sophomore slump. With a lot of the networking done and a firmwide record number of successful securitization deals under her belt, it’s time to take a step back, survey the market, and figure out where to go next. And as luck would have it, the market expects to see a big jump in CDOs — DeFelice’s specialty. Just call it a perfect match between the rainmaker and the market.

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