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It was the Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati version of pulling out all the stops. As intellectual property litigators looked to jump from the wreckage of Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison, Wilson partners trundled off to San Diego, commandeered the biggest conference room at the Brobeck outpost and tried to turn on the charm. A few days later a planeload of Brobeck lawyers flew to the San Francisco Bay Area and dined with Wilson Chairman Larry Sonsini. While some firms seem to be perpetually in the market for big groups of laterals, this was somewhat unfamiliar territory for Palo Alto, Calif.-based Wilson. And the firm was unsuccessful as well. Los Angeles’ Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker — which had been talking to the Brobeck lawyers for months — brought over most of the IP litigators. But if the firm hopes to grow its IP litigation prowess to match its corporate strength, Wilson Sonsini may need to sharpen its people skills to attract top talent. The firm’s brass has decided that IP litigation is a top priority and has been throwing its energy into recruiting laterals. But Wilson Sonsini can’t seem to move as fast as its competition, and the firm’s main selling point — tech prowess — doesn’t seem to have the cachet it once did. The firm is also very strict about guarding its profits and culture — and adding laterals can threaten both. “They’re very protective of their dilution and leveraging, like a mother bear looking over her cubs,” said recruiter William Nason, a principal at Watanabe Nason & Seltzer. Nason has worked with candidates that Wilson Sonsini has courted. Wilson has tried to woo groups of IP litigators in the past, to no avail. The firm failed to pull off a merger with the New York IP boutique Fish & Neave, which could have propelled Wilson Sonsini into a leading position among IP players. For their part, Wilson Sonsini partners admit they’ve come up empty. But they say they aren’t willing to bend their rules to make deals happen, nor are they willing to take on just anybody. “My philosophy is we don’t have to be knee-jerk,” Sonsini said. “We don’t just go off and hire all over the place willy-nilly.” As Sonsini suggests, the firm has taken a somewhat plodding approach to building an IP litigation team. In fact, the firm didn’t set out to launch a huge practice group when it hired partner Ron Shulman in 1995 to start its IP litigation group. The firm’s partners had worked alongside Shulman, then a partner at Fish & Neave in New York, and were impressed. On the East Coast, Shulman was a marquee name. But in Palo Alto, he had to start from scratch marketing himself to potential clients and even among his own partners. It took him eight months to snare a case, and he got that by winning a beauty contest. Today, he gets most of his work from companies that aren’t Wilson Sonsini clients. Just three of his 12 active cases involve corporate clients of the firm, Shulman said. “For years, people on the corporate side didn’t believe that Wilson had the capacity to do this sort of work,” Shulman said. The firm has built its IP group by hiring associates and promoting from within, Shulman said. The firm had a handful of IP litigators when he arrived, and now the group numbers 60 lawyers. But hiring laterals — and by extension, getting their books of business — hadn’t been a priority. Shulman contends it was a smart decision because IP litigation wasn’t a hot practice area during the technology boom of the late ’90s. “You don’t buy capacity and then look to see if you have the business to support it,” he said. Even if IP litigation had been popping, Wilson Sonsini management was focused on building the firm’s corporate team. “No one paid a lot of attention to us,” said Michael Ladra, an IP litigation partner. “We were happily toiling away in obscurity.” That changed when corporate work dried up. Instead of doing deals, companies started using their IP portfolios as a competitive tool, and IP litigation began to take off. Even without high-profile laterals, Wilson has been able to score some victories for clients. Shulman successfully defended Broadcom Corp. against a pair of patent infringement claims raised by Intel Corp. Shulman also won a jury verdict for client Brocade Communications Systems Inc., which was sued by McData Corp. for patent infringement. Ladra also has won several key victories before the International Trade Commission. “It’s been a slow-building thing, but we’re starting to get critical mass,” Ladra said. “We could grow the business if we had more people, but it’s a tougher calculation because what are you really getting out of it besides growth for growth’s sake?” In recent years, however, Wilson Sonsini has tried to speed up growth in the IP litigation group. Shulman was the partner who suggested talking to Fish & Neave about a merger — despite Wilson’s longtime policy eschewing any kind of merger deal. Talks fizzled after a handful of meetings in late 2001 and early 2002. Wilson Sonsini partners say they’re still open to a deal. However, a Fish partner, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said partners worried they would lose their autonomy if they were to agree to a merger. They worried they would be service partners for the firm’s corporate group. The firm also flirted with a group of IP litigators from Lyon & Lyon, the Los Angeles-based IP boutique that dissolved last year. Who walked away from the Lyon & Lyon deal first is unclear. However, Nason said, Wilson Sonsini was late to the scene and didn’t offer as competitive a package as other firms. The issue doesn’t seem to be that Wilson Sonsini is stingy, Nason said. The firm just hasn’t appeared willing to step outside its business model to compete with other firms that are more proactive about recruiting, he said. “What they didn’t realize is to get a desirable IP group in today’s market is analogous to participating in an eBay auction,” Nason said. Wilson Sonsini did manage to win over a former Brobeck IP litigator, M. Craig Tyler, from the defunct firm’s Austin, Texas, office. Wilson is also expected to add an IP litigation partner in Palo Alto. The two mark the first lateral IP litigation partner hires since Shulman joined the firm. Wilson Sonsini doesn’t plan to stop with IP litigators. It hired former Affymetrix Inc. General Counsel Vern Norviel as a partner in January to build a biotech IP practice. Sonsini said Wilson moved IP up on the list of priorities when the firm’s clients began to demand the expertise. Five years ago, he said, hiring mergers and acquisitions talent was a priority. “What you look for is what are the needs of the market and what are the needs of the customers,” Sonsini said. Clients seem to want more IP expertise, and the firm is responding, he said. “IP has become more of a priority and a revenue driver for enterprises than it used to be,” Sonsini said. “Its time has come.”

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