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Historically, the theory of “who called me yesterday” dominated law firm growth. The notion of building a firm or practice for the express purpose of targeting specific clients or industries was unheard of. Instead, firms added new lawyers, new U.S. offices, and even new offices abroad — and then watched to see what opportunities arose. The phrase “opportunistic growth” was (and still is) fairly common in our profession. Of course, our clients learned long ago that if you sit back and wait for the right opportunities, your competitors will grab them up before you ever see them. Somehow, until very recently, lawyers and law firms were convinced that they were immune from the basic economic forces that influence the rest of the world. Today, as the number of chairs representing Big Law grow fewer by the day, law firms that don’t want to be left standing when the music stops know that globalization is key to securing a seat. But in the haste to keep up with competition, many U.S. firms are still holding on to the old theories of growth as they dive into global waters. Going global means more than opening a London office because everyone else is doing it: It requires charting a course toward new markets that best meet the needs of a targeted industry. At Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe, we’ve looked beyond outdated theories and have asked ourselves a number of questions in recent years about what opportunities are available for growth, both domestically and internationally. Some of the relevant questions we asked included: Where will there be growth in our client base? What type of work will be generated by that growth, and is that the type of work we can — and want — to do? If we target that work, how successful will we be in differentiating Heller Ehrman from our competitors? NOT JUST ANOTHER FIRM In today’s competitive environment, the last question may be the most important. Building a law firm only to find that the result is “just another firm” is not likely to attract and retain the best talent or the best clients. Understanding why people and clients want your firm (or my firm) must be central to the analysis. As we explored the competitive landscape, one industry in which we had exceptional strength jumped out as a real opportunity for future growth: the life sciences and, in particular, biotechnology. The attractions were many: First, while information technology has been the darling of Wall Street for much of the past decade, the aging population and wealth of the United States and global economies point to continued investment in a field dedicated to expanding the frontiers of health care. Second, the barriers to entry are higher than in a number of other fields. Developing true expertise in this industry is tough and requires significant investment in talent, time, and money. Third, the prospects for work in this field are truly global. Public and private companies, as well as hospitals, universities, and government agencies, are developing new science and technology that is licensed, sold, and distributed globally. Finally, and perhaps most relevant for us, Heller Ehrman has represented significant players in the life sciences for more than 40 years, giving us a breadth and depth of understanding and experience that is almost unmatched in the legal profession. Over the past five years, we have continued to build in this area, adding a group of experienced lawyers from the Syntex Corp. (after its acquisition by Roche), as well as new lawyers focused on the life sciences in the San Francisco Bay Area (including Silicon Valley), Seattle, San Diego, and Washington, D.C. We have built a team of more than 60 life science practitioners firmwide, who cross every major specialty, including corporate securities, mergers and acquisitions, licensing, patent protection and prosecution, IP litigation, and regulatory issues. Heller Ehrman has amassed the capability to handle literally every type of legal problem that can affect a life sciences company. FROM LOCAL TO GLOBAL During this building process, we learned that geography is critical but only one factor in the equation. Relationships in the Bay Area quickly expanded into work with Swiss and German companies. Lawyers in San Diego began working with clients in Israel. Lawyers in Seattle found themselves Down Under, helping to build the burgeoning Australian biotech community. As we looked to the next step of our expansion, we knew we had to determine where lawyers on the ground would matter most and where we could use the local connections to continue to build on a global level. Thus, our foray into Maryland. For the last three years, Heller Ehrman has expanded its international life sciences resources to anticipate and meet the challenges facing established and emerging life sciences market leaders. That strategy included lateral hires on the West Coast to expand the firm’s life sciences patent group and, more recently, bolstering our intellectual property capabilities in the D.C. area by adding 12 attorneys and patent specialists to that office in a six-month period. A strategic affiliation with attorneys in Frankfurt has strengthened the firm’s ties to the European life sciences community. Just last month, Heller Ehrman opened an office dedicated specifically to the life sciences in Montgomery County, Md. “DNA Alley” is home to almost 250 life sciences companies, including some of the world’s most sophisticated genomics companies (Celera, Human Genome Sciences, GeneLogic, and GenVec), as well as the National Institutes of Health and a campus of Johns Hopkins University. This is one of the two most prominent life sciences markets in the United States. With that kind of industry concentration, it is likely that Montgomery County will be to the life sciences what Northern Virginia is to the Internet. Surprisingly, it is also a market virtually untapped by the AmLaw 100. By being the first national law firm to focus significant resources on the life sciences industry in Montgomery County, Heller Ehrman believes it can be a dominant player in that market. Because a physical presence matters to the local clients, opening a new office in Montgomery County — as we have done in the Bay Area, San Diego, and Northern Virginia — gives Heller Ehrman an edge in relationships with both corporate clients and academic institutions. In turn, the addition of new lawyers and new clients permits us to broaden our global reach via new expertise, new relationships, and new opportunities, for us and for our clients. CLIENT-CENTRIC APPROACH The capabilities and talents of our Montgomery County office are the ideal complement to the firm’s resources in the D.C. office, including patent, licensing, and Federal Drug Administration expertise. With the addition of the Montgomery County office, Heller Ehrman now has industry-focused lawyers from coast to coast. Those lawyers, in conjunction with our attorneys in Asia and affiliates in Europe, can offer a “one-stop shop” to U.S. life sciences companies pushing overseas, as well as to international clients doing business in the U.S. market. Of course, over time, we will have to look for additional real estate in Europe to continue to build new ties and new relationships as we knit this global strategy together. For the moment, our industry reach gives us a global position that makes up for any perceived shortage of European office space. Continued volatility in the U.S. economy promises to hasten globalization and consolidation of the legal industry. A global strategy focused on client development in crucial markets inside and outside the United States is key for firms that want to survive the Big Law rendition of musical chairs. It is essential to understand that growth for growth’s sake is not strategic, nor does it guarantee success in the global marketplace. Careful planning and a commitment to a strategy of designed growth (while monitoring the vicissitudes of the global economy) are the keys to ensuring a seat when the music stops. At Heller Ehrman, we are confident that this industry-focused approach to firm expansion will ensure the continued success of our clients, as well as our firm. Barry S. Levin is chairman of San Francisco-based Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe.

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