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A veteran partner at the 30-attorney San Francisco IP boutique Flehr Hohbach Test Albritton & Herbert has filed suit over the firm’s merger plans, claiming he’s being mistreated because he opposes the deal. According to the complaint by Donald MacIntosh, the merger was to take effect Wednesday with Minneapolis-based Dorsey & Whitney. Under the plan described in the suit, the 600-plus lawyer Dorsey would absorb Flehr Hohbach, a fixture of the Bay Area patent bar since 1947. Neither attorneys from Flehr Hohbach nor Dorsey & Whitney would comment on the merger or the suit, and the merger and its timing could not be independently confirmed. Receptionists at the firm were still using the Flehr Hohbach name when they answered the phones Wednesday. MacIntosh sued in San Francisco Superior Court on Monday, claiming partners were throwing him out of his office upon completion of the merger at midnight Tuesday. Judge James McBride denied MacIntosh’s request for a temporary restraining order Tuesday. MacIntosh, an attorney at Flehr Hohbach for 39 years, had requested a 120-day transition period in which he would retain use of his office, support services and insurance coverage. His suit alleges that Flehr Hohbach attorneys tried to take his clients away. The suit, MacIntosh v. Trecartin, 02-407287, includes as exhibits two e-mail messages and the firm’s partnership agreement. In an April 26 e-mail to MacIntosh, Richard Trecartin, a member of Flehr Hohbach’s management committee, says the law firm will cease to practice law at midnight April 30 and until that time MacIntosh has an obligation “not to solicit existing clients of this firm.” MacIntosh’s attorney, solo practitioner Michael Raifsnider, said his client “wanted just to maintain the status quo for 120 days, so he was not tossed out.” He said Trecartin told MacIntosh on Friday afternoon that on May 1 “you’re out of here.” Trecartin did not return phone calls to his office asking for comment Tuesday and Wednesday. Partners Robert Chickering and David Brezner, who were also named in the suit, also could not be reached for comment. MacIntosh said Flehr Hohbach has been looking for a merger partner since August. He said the firm has been having difficulty making enough money to cover the rent and has suffered a number of attorney departures in the past year. That has been due in part, he said, to the drop in litigation work during the past five years. MacIntosh said Dorsey & Whitney was the third or fourth firm to look at Flehr Hohbach as a merger candidate. Dorsey has 20 offices worldwide, including one in Costa Mesa. MacIntosh said he was the only member of the firm who declined to join Dorsey & Whitney. “It’s like going to work for Starbucks or the INS or DMV,” MacIntosh said. “I didn’t want to be in a group of 750 attorneys.” He said a number of documents he saw — including promissory notes for the acquisition — “made my blood run cold.” According to MacIntosh, Flehr Hohbach attorneys will join Dorsey & Whitney as employees rather than partners, with the understanding that they would become partners in nine or 12 months. Flehr Hohbach has 14 partners, according to its Web site. MacIntosh said the harsh break with his colleagues came as a surprise. “I guess it’s the culture today to be pretty ruthlessly aggressive,” he said. Started 55 years ago by Paul Flehr, the firm grew to 38 attorneys at its height and opened an outpost in Palo Alto. In the past decade, however, IP boutiques like Flehr Hohbach have faced growing competition from general practice firms that now get the big-ticket litigation. Flehr Hohbach’s experience is “typical of what we’re seeing happen to other patent firms in the Bay Area and nationally,” said IP consultant Katharine Patterson. “Older partners aren’t getting bought out by younger partners, so they are looking to merge with general practice firms to get compensation in their later years.” Patterson said younger partners and senior associates are now leaving to set up their own patent prosecution firms. She said there is an evolution going on within traditional IP boutiques. “Patent firms are evolving into patent prosecution firms who do less litigation,” Patterson said. If the merger does occur, Flehr Hohbach will join the ranks of other San Francisco patent firms that have closed their doors in recent years. Limbach & Limbach and Majestic, Parsons, Siebert & Hsue both shuttered at the end of 2000.

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