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Heller Ehrman has poached two corporate partners from Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.Karen Dempsey and Nora Gibson, both in the firm’s San Francisco office since 2000, are expected to join Heller’s San Francisco office by the end of the week. “We wish them all of the best,” said Courtney Chiang Dorman, a spokeswoman at Wilson Sonsini. Dempsey didn’t return calls seeking comment, nor did Gibson, who is traveling in Europe. Dempsey, who came to Wilson from Pillsbury Madison & Sutro, specializes in representing public companies and doing venture capital financings. Gibson specializes in advising companies on federal securities laws and taking companies public. When she left Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison for Wilson in 2000, she laid claim to ushering to market 10 of the 11 initial public offerings in which Brobeck represented underwriters the previous year. The duo is the second group to leave the firm’s San Francisco office in 2005. Partners Michael Kennedy, Steven Camahort and Michael Dorf left in January for O’Melveny & Myers’ office in the financial district. “My thinking is that the office having been hit in the corporate area was a major contributor to their departures,” said recruiter Larry Watanabe, who represented Dempsey in her move to Heller. “It was hard to keep associates and support grounded.” But law firm consultant Gary Davis, of Patterson & Davis Consulting, said the San Francisco office hasn’t been thriving for some time, and noted Dempsey lived in the East Bay. “San Francisco was an office that they took advantage of during the boom,” added consultant Gary Davis, of Patterson & Davis Consulting. “There’s no compelling reason to be in San Francisco when they could service those same clients from Palo Alto. … We’ve seen a good number of very high-quality partners return to the home office in Palo Alto over the years.” Wilson spokeswoman Dorman said the firm has 40 lawyers in the San Francisco office and has been relocating others from Palo Alto, Calif. The firm’s Web site lists seven San Francisco partners — in addition to Gibson and Dempsey.Still, Dorman emphasized that the firm doesn’t differentiate much between the two offices. “There are a lot of people headquartered in Palo Alto who spend a lot of time in San Francisco,” she said. “I can rattle off another 10 [lawyers] who are [in San Francisco] regularly.” Partner profits dipped 2.5 percent to $865,000 at Wilson Sonsini last year, while most of their AmLaw 100 competitors saw increases. Profits were up about 2.3 percent at both Heller and O’Melveny. Heller equity partners took home $855,000 and at O’Melveny, profits were $1.3 million. But Davis said Wilson is still the strongest of the regional players. “What we need to keep an eye on is not people leaving the Austin office, or the D.C. office, or the San Francisco office,” Davis said. “It is when you see people running from the mothership” in Palo Alto, and “we don’t see folk running from the mothership — at least not yet.”

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