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On the legal stage, San Francisco-based Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison’s intellectual property partners have become as sought after as box office draws Denzel Washington, Tom Cruise and Julia Roberts. Law firms and recruiters are calling daily in hopes of luring them away from Brobeck. While there’s a surge of interest in IP attorneys throughout firms in the San Francisco Bay Area, interest in Brobeck’s 27-partner group is the most intense. Brobeck IP lawyers became a hot commodity last month when Clifford Chance announced it was hiring former Brobeck Chairman Tower Snow Jr. and as many as 20 Brobeck partners, primarily securities litigators. Clifford Chance said Tuesday that 17 Brobeck partners had accepted their offer. The London firm initially considered taking a group of about 50 Brobeck partners, including many IP attorneys. When Clifford Chance narrowed the group, other firms jumped into the breach. Brobeck’s IP group already had a reputation as a premier legal force, and with the recent defections of partners, it became a magnet for other firms. “All my guys are getting calls,” said James Elacqua, head of Brobeck’s IP group. “A lot of them are getting four calls a day.” The inquiries are coming from across the country and some are funny, Elacqua said. “Recruiters from North Carolina are saying ‘have I got a deal for you.’” Elacqua said the IP group as a whole “is not moving anywhere” and it will be up to individual partners to decide their future. “Everyone here is trying to take a deep breath and figure out what to do,” Elacqua said. “I’ve been working with the group a lot of years and I hope they stick with it and see what happens.” Elacqua said when people ask what his plans are he tells them: “I’m here and I’m going to hopefully figure out what’s going on here — and I may play a role in helping the firm go through things.” Bay Area firms wouldn’t say whether they are looking to bolster their IP ranks with Brobeck attorneys. “We’re always thinking of expanding our IP group,” said William Anthony, head of Orrick, Harrington & Sutcliffe’s IP group. “Brobeck has good people but I don’t want to suggest ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ we’re talking to them.” Anthony, who headed Brobeck’s IP group prior to joining Orrick in 1997, said firms like Orrick, Cooley Godward and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati could offer Brobeck partners a short-term advantage since they have higher profit margins than Brobeck. “That assumes Brobeck won’t recover, but that won’t happen,” Anthony said. “Brobeck has a pretty hard edge to its culture but there’s a lot of glue there.” The big question about the IP group, Anthony added, is how much of their book of business is portable and how much is fed by Brobeck’s corporate practice. And even if a number of IP partners defect, partners at Brobeck and competing firms say Brobeck will survive. “The doom and gloom that some newspaper articles are trying to portray is not the case,” said Stephen Korniczky, an IP partner in Brobeck’s San Diego office. “The problem is that we can’t hire people fast enough to keep up with the work we’re doing.” Managers at other firms say the legal community’s interest in IP lawyers isn’t limited to Brobeck. Recruiters have been trying to lure partners away from other firms as well. “I’m getting lots of calls even though I’m not out looking,” said Michael Jacobs, co-chair of Morrison & Foerster’s IP group. “IP litigators have been in demand but I’m a little perplexed by the current pace.” Janet Cullum, head of Cooley’s litigation group, said she’s seen an upsurge in recruiting efforts on behalf of firms that are either already in the Bay Area or planning to set up shop here. She pulled up a recent e-mail message she’d received from a recruiter who was looking for “a partner or practice group for a highly respected firm opening in this area.” The ideal candidate would have “$500,000 in portable billings,” the recruiter wrote. In the case of Brobeck IP partners, it’s uncertain how many — if any — of them will accept the offers coming their way. “I suspect that a number of them will leave,” said legal consultant Peter Zeughauser, who assisted Clifford Chance in the recent acquisition of Snow and his group. The principal reasons for future defections from Brobeck, he said, would be disagreements over the shift in direction of the firm — which is less focused on technology and growth than under Snow’s leadership — and the fallout within the firm from Snow and his group’s departure. “A lot of lawyers just want to practice law and don’t want to be in a place where there is constant turmoil,” Zeughauser said. “That’s part of [Brobeck chairman] Dick Odom’s and [partner] John Larson’s mistake,” he added. Those who left, he said, would have been more inclined to stay if Odom and Larson had “graciously let Tower leave and not turned [the situation] into a pissing match.”

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