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Even in a city accustomed to welcoming immigrants, they are a breed apart: law firms that leave their home markets, where they often dominate, to open offices in New York, where they struggle for a foothold. But come they have — and do — inexorably, for the last 25 years. By our count, 94 out-of-town firms in The Am Law 200 have opened in New York, more in the last five years than ever. Counting the 35 Am Law 200 firms that started in New York, 65 percent of the nation’s top-grossing firms now have operations in the city, with more planning to arrive. Some come in bulk — Troutman Sanders, absorbing the 90-odd Jenkens & Gilchrist lawyers who had once practiced at Parker Chapin. Others come alone — Palmer & Dodge, picking up one veteran transportation lawyer to bolster its airport practice. Some are drawn by stardom — Bracewell & Patterson buys itself a premium local brand name and becomes Bracewell & Giuliani. Some come with trusted clients. Others arrive and find they can’t get a 212 phone number, to say nothing of a fresh assignment. It can be lonely. Reality has set in. Few now talk of toppling Cravath, Swaine & Moore or Sullivan & Cromwell. More look for comfortable niches where they can sop up what the big boys don’t want and charge at rates that transcend local dreams. The best have become big-city players: Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher for litigation; Kirkland & Ellis for private equity; Jones Day for deals. Some are massive: The New York offices of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius and Sidley Austin Brown & Wood would rank among the 150 largest firms in the nation. The New York offices of Latham & Watkins and Orrick, Herrington & Sutclife are the largest in their far-flung chains. One way to think about them all is to refer to the Wachtell Line: None of the firms will be as profitable as Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, so they might as well be bigger. By that measure, according to numbers compiled by our sibling publication the New York Law Journal, 12 out-of-town firms are above the Line. And they all intend to grow. According to our survey, the average out-of-town office expects to more than double in size, to 182 lawyers, by 2010. This is good news for recruiters and partners with an itch to lateral. We may have finally found the one market where there aren’t enough lawyers to go around. Note: For more coverage from The American Lawyer ‘s special report on law firms doing business in New York, see the June 2005 issue of The American Lawyer magazine..

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