SAN FRANCISCO — Goodwin Procter has decided to shutter its San Diego office.
The firm notified San Diego lawyers and staff this week that the office will close its doors as of Sept. 30, Goodwin Procter spokesman Lee Feldman confirmed Thursday. In a firmwide memo sent by Goodwin chair Regina Pisa and managing partner Robert Insolia and obtained by The Am Law Daily, the firm leaders said the closure "was not driven by financial considerations. Rather, this is a determination that San Diego, from a geographic perspective, is no longer a strategic location for building the future of the firm, and a decision to reallocate our investments to those markets in California that hold greater promise for us – Los Angeles, San Francisco and Silicon Valley."
Goodwin Procter has 34 people in San Diego: six partners, 12 associates or professional-track attorneys and 16 staff. Feldman said that two partners, six other attorneys and four staff have been given the option to either relocate or work partially from home. That leaves 10 attorneys and 12 staff who will be out of work.
After deciding to close an office, firms often offer to transfer attorneys to the nearest outpost, which in Goodwin's Procter's case would be Los Angeles, legal recruiter Larry Watanabe said.
But Goodwin's lawyers may be unwilling or unable to relocate their practices to a legal market that far away.
"For a whole host of reasons, that's often not very practical," Watanabe said.
Goodwin Procter opened up shop in San Diego in 2007 with partners from Heller Ehrman, including Stephen Ferruolo, who was the office's first chair. Firm leaders voiced high hopes at the time for an outpost centered on technology and life sciences. The firm lured partners from other firms to expand the office in the years that followed, including a pair of IP partners from Foley & Lardner in 2010.
Goodwin Procter is not the first firm to have a change of heart about San Diego — McDermott Will & Emery closed its office in March 2011, relocating a number of attorneys and staff to Irvine. The failures of now-defunct firms like Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison and Heller Ehrman created an opportunity for other players to enter the market, said Watanabe, who has opened offices in San Diego for Morrison & Foerster; K&L Gates; Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo; and Paul Hastings, among other firms. But many firms have since concluded that while San Diego is ripe for life sciences work, the city supports a much narrower band of work than Silicon Valley, Watanabe added.
Corporate flight from San Diego may have further dampened Big Law's enthusiasm for the market, law firm consultant Kent Zimmermann said.
"Law is a follow-the-money profession," he said.
Goodwin Procter has taken other steps to consolidate its presence in Southern California in recent years. The firm once had two offices in Los Angeles, but it shut its doors in Century City in 2011. Searching for efficiencies, a growing number of firms are opting not to maintain multiple offices in one region, Zimmermann said.
"As firms are not able to improve their performance as much as they used to merely by raising rates, some attention has shifted to the expense side," Zimmermann said. "One significant cost is rent."
Goodwin Procter has turned heads in Silicon Valley, where it added emerging companies partner David Van Horne Jr. from Gunderson Dettmer Stough Villeneuve Franklin & Hachigian earlier this year and former federal prosecutor Grant Fondo earlier this week. But the closure of the San Diego office leaves some wondering how much the firm wants to grow elsewhere in the state.
"I don't think Goodwin's commitment to California outside of Silicon Valley is very strong," Watanabe said.
American Lawyer reporter Sara Randazzo contributed to this article.