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Associates searching for a gig may be out of luck with most firms in the Bay Area — that is unless they happen to hear from the recruiters at Gordon & Rees and Sedgwick, Detert, Moran & Arnold. Both firms have been bringing on lawyers like the recession never happened. Gordon has pulled in 36 additional lawyers in 2003 — putting the firm’s overall headcount at 220 and climbing. And Sedgwick has grown by a third in the last 18 months, picking up 115 lawyers overall. The two are likely the most dramatic example of firms that are bucking the downturn, but they aren’t the only ones. Out-of-town firms that have moved into the market recently — like Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw — are also adding legal weight. The firms have a few things in common: They practice in areas that have done well despite — or because of — the recession: litigation, insurance defense work and real estate. And they’re all taking advantage of a talent pool that’s full of tech-firm refugees, the kind of lawyers who shunned them during the go-go days of the tech boom. “It’s easier to hire lawyers now and there are more good lawyers looking for jobs,” said Sara Thorpe, managing partner of Gordon & Rees’ San Francisco office. “We don’t have what we used to refer to as ‘the Silicon Valley suck’ with everyone drawn to the tech firms.” Thorpe said Gordon & Rees is looking to add another 10 lawyers by year’s end — mostly bulking up on transactional lawyers to generate more revenue from existing litigation clients. If the hiring continues as planned, Gordon will have boosted its total lawyer ranks by 25 percent in 2003. Gordon has been placing many of its hires in satellite offices — 11 in Orange County, three in Sacramento and two in Las Vegas. Julie Qureshi Brush, a co-founder of legal recruiter Solutus Legal Search in Palo Alto who is on retainer to Gordon, said associate and partner candidates were dazzled by the big bucks offered by the tech firms and didn’t see the benefits the smaller firms offer. While most Valley firms pay first-year associates $125,000, Gordon offers $90,000 a year. “Candidates are certainly lowering their expectations with regard to the opportunities that are out there,” Brush said. “Some of these off-the-beaten-path firms offer a lot to candidates.” For one thing, the culture and lifestyle at the smaller firms can be less intense than at larger Valley firms, Brush said. Gordon also touts its ability to attract clients through lower billing rates. Giving clients a break on fees has increased business and allowed the firm to expand, Thorpe said. “Clients are looking at what other talented lawyers there are at responsive law firms,” Thorpe said. “We don’t price ourselves out of these clients the way other firms do.” At Sedgwick, the firm has been looking to build a critical mass of litigators. Kevin Dunne, the firm’s chairman, said it’s been a much easier task to accomplish now that the firm doesn’t have to compete with tech firms for bodies. “During the boom, we were hiring, but it was not as easy,” Dunne said. “We had to hire for growth, but we were also hiring to replace people who were leaving for the big bucks.” Sedgwick is continuing its hunt for litigators to help boost its complex business litigation practice. Dunne said changing interpretations of state and federal statutes have given rise to new kinds of lawsuits. “Courts are creating new causes of action, and plaintiffs lawyers are exploiting them,” Dunne said. “I don’t know if it’s the best thing for society, but it’s good for the lawyers.” Some out-of-towners, meanwhile, are simply looking to build their shops. Mayer Brown — which has its roots in Chicago — opened in Palo Alto in 2001 and has spent most of the last two years looking to build a larger local client base. The firm has brought on three new partners in the last month and is actively recruiting lawyers to bulk up its dozen-lawyer Silicon Valley outpost. “Last year, I was much more focused on solidifying my practice,” said C. Cabell Chinnis Jr., Mayer, Brown’s managing partner in Palo Alto. “And I think it’s easier to tell a compelling story to recruits after you’ve been out here and garnered some established successes.”

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