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Jim Brelsford had to think long and hard before leaving his comfortable and safe perch at Seattle’s Perkins Coie. As the managing partner of the firm’s San Francisco Bay Area offices, Brelsford was happy representing mostly media and tech companies. But when headhunter Charles Fanning, Jr., of Major, Hagen & Africa called the 46-year-old litigator and IP lawyer in the summer of 2000, Brelsford promptly caught dot-com fever. Fanning was dangling a job at then-hot [email protected] Formally known as At Home Corporation, Excite first offered Brelsford the general counsel position. But after some negotiation, Brelsford took a job as Excite’s senior vice president of business development. Although his compensation at Excite was a “significant cut,” says Brelsford, there was the hope that his hundreds of thousands of shares in the company would turn to gold. The gold didn’t pan out, and neither did Excite. In February, it turned out the lights after filing for Chapter 11 last September. Last year, firms often welcomed back returning dot-bomb victims. But now, even veterans with real clout must work extraordinarily hard to find new jobs. Brelsford spends his days networking like mad, looking for the way back into a world that he once helped run. Brelsford, like the rest of Excite’s old-guard executives, left last summer after new management took over and cleaned house. After spending a few weeks in Hawaii with his wife, Brelsford faced the reality of starting a job search. “I can’t not work again,” he says. But Brelsford’s timing couldn’t have been much worse. He didn’t have much business to bring with him. Excite was history and his former clients had bonded with other lawyers. Back in Perkins’ San Francisco office, partner Nicole Wong has taken over many of the relationships in Brelsford’s seven-figure book of business. Brelsford hasn’t had formal conversations with Perkins about going back. After managing an office with dozens of lawyers, he says, it would be hard to consider a different role. “It feels more forward moving to put myself in a new situation,” he says. Brelsford isn’t limiting his search to law firms. He wants to focus on transactional technology work and has pursued nonlegal jobs, too. But he says, “there’s not a lot out there.” Finding work in this market is practically a full-time job. Since September, Brelsford has spent most of his time in “meets and greets,” he says, hooking up with old colleagues or connected friends who might know about jobs. He also has a few trusted headhunters working for him. When he’s not in his car driving between appointments, he’s networking at popular Cafe Borrone in Menlo Park, Calif., or the University Cafe in Palo Alto, Calif. Not every out-of-work lawyer is so eager to get back to his career. Brelsford’s boss at Excite, former Fenwick & West partner Mark Stevens, turned his attention homeward. Stevens, who is considered one of Silicon Valley’s hottest dealmakers, ran Excite’s corporate and business development departments as an executive vice president. While at Fenwick, Stevens had been Excite’s lead outside lawyer in its $7 billion merger with At Home Corporation in January 1999. He joined Excite shortly after the deal was done, and left with Brelsford late last summer. Like Brelsford, Stevens says he didn’t make enough money off his options to retire. (He says he made about as much as he would have at Fenwick.) Although he’s met informally with contacts at firms and companies to talk about opportunities, both in the Valley and in New York, he says “it’s probably unfair to call it a job search.” Stevens could go back to work right away. Gordon Davidson, the head of Fenwick & West, says “We would take him back in a minute.” But Stevens is in no rush. “The time off allowed me to think,” he says, about what he wants to do next. Instead of plotting strategy and cutting deals, the 42-year-old says he’s content teaching math twice a week to fourth- and fifth-graders at his son’s school. (In high school, Stevens carried a calculator he’d affixed to his belt; in college, he majored in math.) He sits on the boards of a few companies, which requires the occasional trip to New York. He even took a gourmet cooking class, and now prepares dinner for the family almost nightly. “The butcher knows me,” he says. “It’s pretty cool.” For Stevens, going back to a law firm means that he would need to “wake up one morning and really want to be a lawyer again.” And that, he says, hasn’t happened. His former colleague Brelsford said at press time that he was closing in on a job offer, though he wouldn’t say whether it was with a firm, a company, or something else. One thing is certain: Brelsford will be glad when he can slow down his networking schedule. At times he’s had as many as three coffee appointments in the morning, a lunch, and a midafternoon coffee, too. By evening, he says, he can be a jittery mess. Maybe that sums up job hunting in 2002: It’s a latte work.

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