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San Francisco’s Littler Mendelson is teaming up with a Phoenix boutique to launch a new, separate firm focused exclusively on immigration law, while putting an end to its recent effort to build an immigration practice within the firm. The joint venture, announced Thursday, pairs Littler with Bacon & Dear, a seven-attorney immigration firm that caters to large, multinational corporations. The new entity, to be named Littler Mendelson, Bacon & Dear, will be based out of Bacon & Dear’s Phoenix office, and will initially consist of Bacon & Dear’s attorneys and staff. It’s unclear whether any of Littler Mendelson’s six immigration law attorneys in Atlanta and Phoenix will be invited to join the new organization. Littler President and Managing Director Wendy Tice-Wallner described the venture as a new concept in law firm practice. “The one unique challenge that I think a lot of law firms are facing is in the area of finding ways to deliver even better client services where the traditional model of bringing in laterals doesn’t work,” said Tice-Wallner. “Rather than your typical acquisition, we created a new firm.” The new firm is an Arizona limited liability corporation, jointly owned by Littler and Bacon & Dear. Both firms will share the profits of the venture, though Tice-Wallner declined to offer details on the formula. The venture’s day-to-day operations will be managed by Roxana Bacon and Diane Dear, the two founders and the only two partners at Bacon & Dear. Neither Bacon nor Dear could be reached for comment. A former president of the Arizona State Bar Association, Bacon is a well-known and highly respected figure in the immigration law community. According to Angelo Paparelli, an immigration attorney in Irvine, Calif., Bacon & Dear has a “star-studded client roster” consisting of large companies with work forces deployed all over the world. The Phoenix firm also has a highly leveraged organizational structure, consisting of seven attorneys and about 25 so-called case managers. This structure is likely well suited to immigration work, which consists of a lot of flat-fee, commodity work. “Most big firms have been unable to make an immigration practice work. It’s a high-volume, low-overhead practice, and big firms are high overhead and lower volume,” said legal consultant Peter Zeughauser. The creation of Littler Mendelson, Bacon & Dear effectively marks the end of Littler’s own national immigration practice group. Littler officially launched the group in October 2001 when it hired Nancy-Jo Merritt at its Phoenix office. Prior to that, Littler handled immigration matters through Atlanta partner Charles Kuck. On Wednesday, the attorneys and staff in the immigration group were informed that they would no longer be employees of Littler Mendelson. Whether any of them are offered positions at the new joint venture is up to Bacon & Dear. One person familiar with Littler’s immigration group said 2002 had been a slow year. “Corporate immigration practices suffer when the economy suffers,” said the attorney. Businesses are “not hiring foreign nationals.” Tice-Wallner acknowledged that the immigration practice had not met some of the firm’s expectations, but she said the practice had been gaining momentum and tapped into Littler employment clients such as Cyprus Semiconductor and Dow Chemical Co. According to Littler, the integration of the two firms’ operations is expected to be completed in mid-March.

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