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The breezes down California’s Highway 101 last week weren’t coming from the San Francisco Bay — they were great big sighs of relief from Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison. The firm’s biggest client, Cisco Corp., is back in action. It’s been seven, long months since the San Jose-based network equipment maker has bought anything. Instead, Cisco has been laying off workers — 16,000 so far this year — and eschewing outside deal activity. In fact, Cisco officially put mergers and acquisitions on hold in March. The tide may be turning, though. Cisco announced last week it bought privately held AuroraNetics Inc. for up to $150 million in stock. And as Cisco’s chief outside counsel, the acquisition has San Francisco-based Brobeck back in business too, at least when it comes to closing Cisco deals. “The firm’s been pretty slow, so it was a welcome surprise for all of us,” said Richard Meamber, a Brobeck associate in Palo Alto, Calif., who worked on the deal. The $150 million is small potatoes compared to the huge cash the company has doled out in recent years. But it’s unlikely Brobeck lawyers are complaining. Cisco’s last acquisition was all the way back in December, when the tech bellwether bought wireless equipment maker ExiO Communications Inc. of San Jose. In the interim, Brobeck lawyers have been handling more mundane matters for the company, like handling its investment portfolio. But on the mergers and acquisitions front, Cisco had been quite a cash cow for Brobeck. In all, Cisco has bought 72 companies since 1993, said a company spokeswoman. That includes the most recent acquisition. Of the total, 23 deals were done in 2000, and in 1999 it was 18. Cisco bought nine companies in 1998. And Brobeck has been there for virtually every deal. That’s not to say Brobeck should be considered overly dependent on Cisco, said Peter Zeughauser, a leading firm consultant. “There are plenty of firms much more dependent on a single client than Brobeck was on Cisco,” said Zeughauser, a principal at Corona Del Mar, Calif.-based ClientFocus. Firms really start sweating when a single client starts generating in the neighborhood of 25 percent of revenues, Zeughauser said. It’s unlikely Cisco’s fees got that high for Brobeck, he added, buying binge or no. The question remains, however, if the AuroraNetics Inc. deal is an isolated one, or if the deal pipeline at Cisco is filling up again. Company executives hinted in press reports after the deal that more deals may be in the works. That’s sure to keep the folks at Brobeck breathing easy.

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