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Thelen Reid & Priest. Chadbourne & Parke. Dickstein Shapiro Morin & Oshinsky. Ropes & Gray. A few years ago, these firms were anything but sexy. Back then, partners and counsel looking to move their practices to greener pastures would tick off names of California-based firms like Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison; Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati; and Cooley Godward as the hot Washington, D.C., area offices. And competition for the best lateral candidates was fierce. Sure, the Thelens Reids, Chadbournes, and the like had name recognition and a fair measure of respect. But they weren’t the ones hiring up bunches of laterals and making headlines. Times have changed. Many magnet firms have lost their charge, and partners are exploring their options. The new dynamic has created an opportunity for steady firms that a few years ago would have been stuck with the “old economy” label to make their play in the D.C. market. “We’re seeing many more high-quality candidates that are interested in relocating today than a year or two ago,” says Thelen Reid’s D.C. managing partner, Andrew Ness. Already, Thelen Reid’s D.C. office, which hovered around 40 to 45 lawyers for years, now numbers 53. “There’s a real anxiety now about finding a safe haven,” explains legal recruiter Steve Tenhoor of Tenhoor & Helffrich. “There are a lot of firms that failed to follow the mantra that everyone says about investing: Diversify, diversify, diversify.” For those firms with steady, if at times less tantalizing, practice areas, their moment has come. “It’s a little bit of a buyer’s market,” says Dickstein Shapiro’s managing partner, Angelo Arcadipane. “If you have the resources, it’s the time for building.” For those who can afford to build, it’s often well worth it. “To really make a significant difference in your practice profile of the firm, you need to add senior people,” says Ness. True to his word, in the space of just a few months, New York-based Thelen Reid nabbed a nine-partner group from Arent Fox Kintner Plotkin & Kahn, and added five other partner- or counsel-level attorneys in the District. The office plans to now make associate-level hires to handle all of the work generated by the new partners, says Ness. Chadbourne & Parke’s D.C. office has seen a comparable amount of expansion. At the start of 2000 the office had 43 attorneys, a number that has since swelled to 55 and includes two recent partner additions from Los Angeles-based O’Melveny & Myers: Dana Frix and Hwan Kim. “We are talking to other laterals, and we are continuing to look for other opportunities, I would say extremely actively,” says Chadbourne D.C. managing partner Andrew Giaccia. Ropes & Gray’s D.C. office, a similarly sized outpost, is also on the hunt for senior-level laterals, confirms area managing partner Mark Greenwood. MORE MOVEMENT While it is not unusual for partners to move from firm to firm, or for firms to be on the lookout for good lateral candidates, legal recruiters and consultants say there has been a noticeable increase lately in senior-level attorney movement. They also point out that many of the firms that are hiring now are “not that sexy, not that big, but solid.” Indeed, Thelen Reid has approximately 425 attorneys firmwide, and its D.C. office has a strong base in construction law, project finance and employment benefits. Firmwide profits per partner hit $500,000 in 2000, according to the most recent survey from The American Lawyer. At New York-based Chadbourne, the D.C.-based lawyers spend a chunk of time on project finance, reinsurance and antitrust work. And at Dickstein, which recently hired a handful of upper-level associates and is looking at partner-level candidates, regulatory, antitrust and litigation work are not hard to find. As they grow, none of these firms are looking to push aside their traditional practice areas. Chadbourne, according to Giaccia, wants to “find specific or individual senior level people with practice areas that fit into our level of interest.” Similarly, Thelen Reid is looking to expand on its established practice areas. Eschewing the ideal of growth for growth’s sake that so many firms aspired to just a few years ago, Ness explains that the burst in Thelen Reid’s D.C. office “wasn’t planned.” “We’re looking to build on our strengths and directly complement practice areas we already have,” he says. “I’m sure we’ll continue to grow, but we have not set any particular target, nor have we set any particular cap. “There are things in the works today,” adds Ness. “It’s a continuing process.” It is this ability to grow in a down market that is helping make once-sleepy firms popular with lateral candidates lately, say recruiters. “Some of them are not so interested in, for example, where the firm’s offices are,” says Mary Legg of Firm Advice Inc. “They want a firm that’s going to be around in 10 years.” Adds Stuart Pape, managing partner of Patton Boggs: “There are plenty of firms that have been laying people off. When you get into that kind of mode, you precipitate movement.” LEVELING OUT According to recruiters, much of this movement has to do with a desire to move away from the extreme highs and lows that have marked some firms over the past few years. “The major reason there’s been a lot of activity by partners is that a lot of firms are not doing well,” says Tenhoor. “Today, there are a lot of problems, a lot of clients that aren’t around. A lot of firms that deferred payments until clients got up and running didn’t get paid.” Of course, not every client has gone out of business. But not every client has been able to survive without at least merging. “Clients are consolidating. As they consolidate, those businesses and professionals that service those clients also consolidate,” points out Dickstein Shapiro’s Arcadipane. “With the economic slump, there are firms that are not going to be as profitable.” Associate salaries also continue to hit hard. While they are affecting big firms of all kinds, increased payroll costs have exacerbated financial problems at those firms with shaky client bases. “Some firms are not bringing in enough to cover partner profits and overhead costs,” says headhunter Keith Barrett of Mestel & Co. With associate salaries as a fixed cost, that often means partner profits take a hit. Or, for some, it means layoffs of not just associates, but also partners. In a recent example, Holland & Knight laid off 60 attorneys, 33 of which were partners. Nowadays, says Legg of Firm Advice, partners thinking about jumping ship are first looking to see if their intended firm has been forced to lay anyone off or suffered major partner defections. Those that haven’t are becoming sweeter targets for senior-level Washington attorneys. “There are firms that made some very, very costly mistakes,” says Arcadipane. “We are sometimes the beneficiaries of that. We spend a lot of time interviewing people who are looking to leave other firms.” With the increase in partners and counsel-level lawyers hoping to move, it may not be long before other firms ramp up their recruiting. According to area managing partner J. Roger Mentz, White & Case’s D.C. office has not been looking to expand past its normal hiring approach. “It’s tough to find really good people with a substantial business base,” says Mentz. But, he adds, “maybe we ought to look a little harder. Maybe I’m missing something. That very well may be.”

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