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Outside San Francisco, other city attorneys have been boosting their departments with lawyers trained at big firms. For the recruits, the pay cut can be steep, but the experience is invaluable. Lawyers who formerly summarized depositions suddenly get the chance to be on the front lines of litigation, trying cases and making key decisions. Those who return to firms can boast of first-chair courtroom experience that few partners can match. Since Rocky Delgadillo was elected city attorney of Los Angeles in 2001, he has pulled in a stream of people from Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher; Manatt, Phelps & Phillips; and Bryan Cave. He’s also lured a couple of partners from his former firm, O’Melveny & Myers. “I encourage a revolving door,” says Delgadillo. “I say, ‘Work for me for a couple years, and I will commit to you that I will catapult you out of here.’” So far, most of his hires have stayed in the 525-lawyer office, where the pay can approach $200,000 for the most senior attorneys. Delgadillo is in discussions with several firms about setting up a program in which junior partners would spend six to nine months in the city attorney’s office getting trial experience. “[The lawyers] would get sophisticated cases,” says Delgadillo. “I’d get topflight lawyers for free.” New York City runs a similar boot-camp-type program that corporation counsel Michael Cardozo, a former partner at Proskauer Rose, revived in 2002 when he took the post. Law firms send third- to fifth-year associates to the city’s law department for up to six months. Nine firms, including Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton; Morgan, Lewis & Bockius; and Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, have recently participated, contributing nearly 20 lawyers. The office also runs a deposition program in which firms can send a lawyer once a week to take a deposition for the city. “We have had a terrific outpouring from the big firms,” says Cardozo. “It really has worked quite well.” On a full-time basis, the office has recently attracted hires from Shearman & Sterling, Bryan Cave, and Morgan Lewis. Kirkland & Ellis litigation partner Emily Nicklin raves about the two years she spent in Chicago’s corporation counsel office, calling it “enormously helpful.” In 1989 Nicklin was a young equity partner at Kirkland who had a chance to be one of the city’s top lawyers. “It was very useful to me to operate in a different context,” says Nicklin. Being forced to work with limited resources made her more effective. “Brains and energy go a long way in a courtroom,” she notes. “When I came back to Kirkland, I was more independent and more willing to manage things, with less anxiety.” Peter Obstler, now a partner at O’Melveny’s San Francisco office, left the firm in 1997 and spent 2 1/2 years as a San Francisco deputy city attorney, getting trial dirt under his nails. “I got 65 cases to run right off the bat,” recalls the Yale Law School graduate. Most important, he says, he developed good instincts: “What cases are triable. What cases should be settled.” Back in private practice, Obstler says his public service stint has been very marketable to clients: “My experience at the city attorney’s office has given me a level of confidence I could not have gotten anywhere else.”

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