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Two former partners at Allen Matkins Leck Gamble Mallory & Natsis have launched their own firm in Los Angeles, prompted by an opportunity to provide flexible billing rates for clients.Chris Safarian and Alex Choi, who left Allen Matkins last month after seven years at the firm, launched Safarian & Choi on Sept. 6. Safarian said he expects the firm to grow to as many as 15 attorneys during the next 24 months. The firm will focus on corporate and securities matters, litigation and bankruptcy.“I’m always the optimist. That’s what drove starting this firm,” Safarian said. “Certainly, the landscape is different from ’08 and ’09, with more and more opportunities coming, and the real estate market looks to stabilize in nine to 12 months.”The move was the latest example of lawyers in Los Angeles leaving major law firms to launch boutiques that offer flexible billing arrangements. Many of their clients have found the fees charged by large firms unrealistically high, Safarian said — particularly at a time when more deals fail than are consummated.“A lot of our clients have voiced to us that some of the fees don’t work,” Safarian said, and several have capped what they’re willing to pay for deals. “By commoditizing, they want some sort of rack rates for the deal. While we work on an hourly basis, we absolutely have the flexibility to accommodate them in that way.”The move also came as Allen Matkins, which focuses largely on real estate, has seen gross revenue fall —  by 3.9%, to $142,159,000 in 2010, according to NLJ affiliate The American Lawyer magazine. Headcount dropped from 217 to 207 at the firm, which underwent a management change on July 1 when David Osias, a bankruptcy partner in San Diego, became the second managing partner of the Los Angeles firm since its founding in 1977. Safarian said the changes at Allen Matkins had nothing to do with their decision to leave. Both he and Choi worked together at Allen Matkins after joining from Mayer Brown, where they had become associates in 1999. Safarian became a partner in 2007 and Choi in 2008.Their new firm will focus on financing transactions, real estate development, leasing and acquisitions. Clients include Google Inc., Kearny Real Estate Co., Mesa West Capital LLC, DLJ Real Estate Capital Partners LLC and Super King Markets. Safarian & Choi joined a list of boutiques launched in Los Angeles since the recession began. Last year, two former lawyers at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius formed Salisian Lee, catering to entrepreneurs, real estate developers and small business owners. Ten real estate lawyers from what is now Jeffer, Mangels, Butler & Mitchell left to start Elkins Kalt Weintraub Reuben Gartside. In 2009, three entertainment litigation partners at Los Angeles-based Irell & Manella left to form Kendall Brill & Klieger.Amanda Bronstad can be contacted at [email protected].

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