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Buffeted by partner defections and the still-moribund tech sector, Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison appears to be on a serious hunt for a merger partner. The buzz among lawyers has been that the San Francisco-based firm is in serious talks with Washington, D.C.’s Hogan & Hartson — though neither firm would confirm nor deny that they were talking to each other. Brobeck Chairman Richard Odom and firmwide managing partner Richard Parker did not return phone calls. But a firm spokesman said talk of a merger is “really a rumor, and it’s firm policy not to comment on rumors.” “I think Brobeck is a terrific firm and has a lot of strengths,” said Hogan Chairman J. Warren Gorrell Jr. “It is our policy not to comment on rumors.” Brobeck partners and associates said they have heard Brobeck’s name linked to 900-attorney Hogan & Hartson, as well as other firms, but did not know if merger discussions were actually under way. In addition to Hogan, Philadelphia’s Morgan, Lewis & Bockius and Boston’s Hale and Dorr, which has a joint venture with Brobeck in Europe, have been mentioned as possible suitors. One Brobeck partner said he would be surprised if the firm was talking to Hogan & Hartson. “It’s very old line and very corporate oriented,” he said. “The only positive I can think of is that it’s nontech, which would balance out the tech side” of Brobeck. “It’s a no-brainer for them to start looking,” the partner said. “I hope they can pull something off. [The firm] needs an injection of something.” A merger is “certainly something Brobeck would have to be looking at,” said legal consultant Peter Zeughauser. “The firm has too much overhead and not enough lawyers. It has space for 950 lawyers and 500 lawyers billing time. That’s not the usual ratio you want.” As for a merger with Hogan, Zeughauser said both firms have great litigation and corporate practices, and a union would give Hogan a presence on the West Coast and San Francisco while giving Brobeck a strong presence on the East Coast and internationally. A former Brobeck partner said that in the late 1980s the two firms engaged in merger discussions, which were backed by former Brobeck Chairman John Larson. Hogan also originally planned to be a partner in the venture between Brobeck and Hale and Dorr, but The American Lawyer magazine, an affiliate of The Recorder and law.com, reported in 1990 that Hogan withdrew because of client conflicts. Since Brobeck’s profitability plummeted last year, it is more in line with that of Hogan. Brobeck had gross revenue of $447 million and profits per partner of $660,000 in 2001, while Hogan & Hartson had gross revenue of $385 million and profits per partner of $575,000. A Brobeck spokesman said Friday that the firm’s profits per partner are on target to be ahead of last year’s number. In its heyday during the tech boom, Brobeck was aiming to be one of the dominant firms in the United States and is not likely to have considered a union with Hogan, which is known for its strong regulatory practice, as well as its corporate and litigation practices. Hogan has 14 offices, including a Los Angeles outpost that was set up in 1998. Six of the offices are outside the United States, in Berlin, Brussels, Budapest, London, Moscow, Paris and Beijing. A merger may be appealing to Brobeck, which has seen its ranks drastically diminished in the past nine months. At least 35 partners have left the firm since January, including the 17 partners — mostly securities litigators — who went to Clifford Chance and 11 intellectual property partners who are jumping to Dewey Ballantine. One former partner put the number of partner defections close to 70. While Brobeck said the number is off base and more like 30, the firm is clearly touchy about the issue. It used to list all the attorneys in a given office or practice group on its Web site. But Brobeck recently removed the attorney lists from the site, making it more difficult to track departures. Brobeck also appears unclear about the number of attorneys it has on staff. At the end of August it put the total at 553, while on Friday the firm said it was in the low- to mid-600s. The previous number may have excluded certain lawyers, a firm spokesman said, such as retired attorneys who are still billing. Rumors of a possible merger first appeared Thursday in Legal Week, a British legal publication. It reported a Hogan & Hartson deal was imminent and quoted an unnamed senior U.S. partner at Brobeck as saying the firm’s chairman, Odom, has been looking into “beneficial strategic relations” with other firms.

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