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Morrison & Foerster has finally closed down its beleaguered Orange County office after being dealt a final blow: the departure of its office leader and another partner to Manatt, Phelps & Phillips. Dean Zipser and Thomas Umberg will start at Manatt in early May. MoFo confirmed the closure in a press release, saying its scale of practice in that market no longer justified a full-service office. MoFo Chairman Keith Wetmore did not return a call by The Recorder‘s deadline Friday afternoon. In late March, a steady stream of departures prompted Wetmore to acknowledge that the office has been struggling and that the firm has moved some key attorneys into other “centers of excellence.” At the time, he said the firm wasn’t engaging in a full retreat from Orange County. “We have not set out to exit the OC market,” he told The Recorder. At its height more than a decade ago, that office had 50 attorneys; today the firm’s Web site lists 17, including the two about to join Manatt. MoFo’s Orange County clients will be served from other markets, including Los Angeles and San Diego, Mofo’s release said. All the lawyers and staff have had the time and opportunity to decide whether to relocate within the firm or outside the firm, it said. Manatt’s more-than-20-lawyer office was in need of litigation expertise, said Ellen Marshall, the administrative partner for that firm’s Orange County office. “I am happy that we’re adding two of my dear friends who are some of the best lawyers I know,” she said. “I’ve been recruiting them since I’ve been here.” Marshall also joined from MoFo five years ago and said she tried to bring over Zipser and Umberg on and off throughout that time, whenever she ran into them at common events. Eventually they were ready to move, and she finally received that phone call. “Manatt is an excellent law firm that has a great deal of energy focused on California and Orange County, and we wanted to be part of that vision,” said Umberg, who has also served in many governmental roles, including in the state Assembly. The firm is in growth mode there, Marshall added. “The firm sees Orange County as a critical piece,” she said. “We’ve been gradually pulling together a wonderful group of lawyers.” That includes Steve Edwards, the former co-chairman of O’Melveny & Myers’ real estate group, who joined earlier this month. “The hires are a reflection of a commitment to Orange County and the growth of our core practices in that office, which very much includes litigation,” said Manatt Co-Chairman Paul Irving. “We’ve had our eyes on Dean and Tom for a long time.”

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