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When it comes to global work, Atlanta’s firms aren’t just whistling Dixie. Like firms elsewhere, Atlanta’s legal players have been hit with a decline in capital markets and e-commerce-related transactions work. But with the growth of foreign investment in nearby North Carolina and the rest of the Southeast, Atlanta’s Am Law 100 firms are poised to pick up work from a global clientele. The biggest splash so far this year has been made by Alston & Bird, which merged with New York’s 52-lawyer Walter, Conston, Alexander & Green in a bid to expand its offerings to German companies that are moving into North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park. Since the mid-1950s, Walter Conston had thrived in the niche market of servicing German firms doing business in the U.S. Until the ’90s, that meant focusing on New York. But lately, European companies have been moving into the Southeast, attracted by both the prospect of skilled labor at a lower cost and business development at Research Triangle Park, home to computer, biotechnology, and pharmaceutical companies. “In the ’90s, North Carolina ranked third in states with the most new foreign plants,” says Alston & Bird managing partner Ben Johnson III. Alston & Bird has maintained offices in North Carolina since 1997, and currently has offices in Raleigh, Charlotte, and Research Triangle Park. Another Atlanta firm, Kilpatrick Stockton, came on to the scene the same year, through the merger of Atlanta’s Kilpatrick & Cody with Winston-Salem’s Petree Stockton; the merged firm had offices in Charlotte and Raleigh, as well as Winston-Salem. Research Triangle Park isn’t North Carolina’s only attraction. Charlotte, 150 miles to the west, has grown into the nation’s second-largest banking center and is home to such heavy-hitter clients as Bank of America Corporation and First Union Corporation. In fact, John Garrou, managing partner of Winston-Salem’s Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice — North Carolina’s only Am Law 100 firm — says that Charlotte’s banking business is even more of a draw for out-of-state law firms than Research Triangle Park is. The banking work has drawn such firms as New York’s Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft and Rosenman & Colin and Chicago’s Mayer, Brown & Platt into Charlotte in the last few years, along with the Atlanta firms. Garrou says that the increased attention has put upward pressure on salaries. “There was a time, maybe even five years ago, that last year’s associate pay hikes wouldn’t have had as much of an impact on North Carolina firms. If [large, out of state firms] went to $100,000, we’d go to $75,000. Now we pay what the big Atlanta firms pay.” The next phase may be Charlotte’s growth as an international center. Kilpatrick Stockton partner Martin Tilson, Jr., says that these days Charlotte is attracting “a good number” of German companies. Deutsche Banc Mortgage Capital, LLC, has established its North American headquarters there, and German electrical engineering conglomerate Siemens AG and German software maker SAP Aktiengesellschaft also have major operations in Charlotte. In fact, the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce says that there are about 150 German companies in the metro area, and the German presence there is so strong that the public school system now offers classes conducted entirely in German through the third grade. Foreign investment in the region has not been confined to North Carolina. Atlanta’s King & Spalding represented JCB Service, a British equipment manufacturing company, in the recent establishment of its North American headquarters in Savannah. And foreign companies are also moving into Atlanta itself. “The [1996] Olympics certainly did one thing for Atlanta: They put this city on the international map,” says Tilson. The chairman of Kilpatrick Stockton’s technology practice, Tilson says that Israeli tech companies “have decided to make Atlanta their beachhead.” According to the Southeast regional office of the American-Israel Chamber of Commerce, nearly 50 Israeli-based high-tech companies, including Jacada, Inc., Elrad Computer and Control Systems, Qronus Interactive, and ZIM-American Israeli Shipping Co. have set up shop in Atlanta in the last two to three years, at a rate of about one a month. Atlanta firms also have plenty of international work from their domestic clients. Even though it has no overseas offices, King & Spalding has long done international work for The Coca-Cola Company, one of its leading domestic clients. More recently, King & Spalding has added international work for such Atlanta-based clients as The Home Depot, Inc., and United Parcel Service, Inc. “We’re doing a lot of international work because of globalization generally,” says managing partner Walter Driver, Jr. No one pretends that things look as rosy as they did a year ago, at the height of the tech boom, but with brand names like these in their rosters, and an economic engine like North Carolina in their sights, Atlanta’s law firms say they’ll be just fine.

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