Left to right: Rafey Balabanian and Jay Edelson
Left to right: Rafey Balabanian and Jay Edelson ()

SACRAMENTO — Edelson PC, the Chicago-based plaintiffs firm that specializes in privacy litigation, will open its second office Tuesday in San Francisco.

The new South of Market digs will put Edelson closer to key federal courts—and to the technology companies the firm frequently torments with class actions.

“We think that a lot of decisions affecting people’s lives in terms of technology and privacy are happening in the Bay Area,” said Rafey Balabanian, Edelson’s head of litigation and now managing partner of the San Francisco office. The move “will alone, in some ways, serve as a deterrent to overreach by some companies.”

Privacy litigation has offered plaintiffs and their lawyers the alluring potential of big paydays, given the sheer numbers of users and violations tied to any particular technology. But for all the hype about privacy, the particular legal field has not generated consistently big awards as judges press for tangible, but sometimes hard to define, proof that plaintiffs were actually harmed by a company’s data practices.

Just Monday, conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court questioned whether an unemployed man—represented by Edelson—suffered any real harm when online data provider Spokeo listed incorrect information about him, including his educational attainment.

Spokeo v. Robins, 13-1339, has attracted a lot of attention in Silicon Valley, where some see it as a potential bellwether for future privacy litigation. EBay Inc., Facebook Inc., Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc. have all asked the high court to find in Spokeo Inc.’s favor.

Edelson says it has obtained more than $1 billion in class settlements. It has targeted Facebook for its biometric data practices, Twitter for scanning direct messages and various online game makers for allegedly operating like gambling enterprises. With its move to San Francisco, Edelson is betting the privacy practice is here to stay.

“I’m not entirely surprised, given how many cases they’ve had over the years in the” U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, said Michael Rhodes, who chairs Cooley’s privacy practice.

The move makes practical sense. Edelson’s attorneys have appeared pro hac vice in the Northern District court, a practice that, when frequent, can hit a roadblock. In October, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Harold Kahn rejected Boston attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan’s request to appear as counsel in a suit against Washio Inc. because of her involvement in a number of similar class actions targeting companies in the so-called sharing economy.

Joining Balabanian in the Bryant Street office will be five attorneys, three of them associates, some of whom are still awaiting their bar exam results. Firm leaders say they also plan to hire two laterals. There was no poaching of Valley veterans, no acquisition of an established Bay Area boutique.

Firm founder Jay Edelson said that was all by plan for a practice that does not follow the traditional law firm hierarchy.

“Our view is that young people from the beginning can make a huge impact,” he said.

If that sounds like a typical Valley meritocracy mantra, it is. The firm is known for its casual style, and Edelson’s admiration for startup culture shows. The new San Francisco office has ” telepresence robots,” mobile units (created by a Y-Combinator-funded Burlingame company) with two-way screens that allow for cross-country chats on the go.

“You can kind of love the culture of a company and love their products but realize that they’re so huge and hold so much power that when they cut corners they can have a profound impact on people,” Edelson said.

Contact the reporter at cmiller@alm.com.