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SAN FRANCISCO — With the first quarter of 2009 under their belts, California’s top 25 firms are feeling more stable, but remain uncertain about the year ahead, and a sense of fragility lingers. The firms pulled through 2008 in a variety of ways, some holding steady and some taking a beating. Some large firms that were overexposed to capital markets, like Latham & Watkins and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, were forced to lay off hundreds of staff. Others — like Allen Matkins Leck Gamble Mallory & Natsis, which was hit by the real estate downturn — chose salary reductions over big layoffs.

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