Merger Won't End Squadron's Work On Behalf of Fox

LAW
by Amanda Bronstad

Well, it finally happened. After a year of rumors, New York-based Squadron Ellenoff Plesent & Sheinfeld LLP finally merged last week with Washington, D.C.-based Hogan & Hartson LLP.

Squadron Ellenoff, the smaller firm but more well-known practice in L.A., represented News Corp. in its sale of Fox Family Worldwide Inc., its purchase of Chris-Craft Industries Inc. and its bid for DirecTV in 2001.

The firm now falls under Hogan & Hartson's name but it will keep its 17 attorneys in its Century City office. Squadron Ellenoff's local managing partner, Mark Fleischer, will be managing partner of Hogan & Hartson's Century City office. Hogan & Hartson also will keep its 27-attorney Los Angeles office, headed by managing partner Marc Bozeman.

The combined firm will continue to represent News Corp.'s local activities, including work for Fox, Bozeman said. "We've done work for News Corp. in the past," Bozeman said of Hogan & Hartson. "We're adding to Squadron by increasing its amount of services."

Hogan & Hartson has 18 offices worldwide, while Squadron Ellenoff also has an office in New York.

Golden Opportunity

Three attorneys from the AARP Foundation have joined a class action lawsuit filed by 51 television writers, aged 40 and up, against a number of major entertainment conglomerates.

The suit, filed in October 2000 in Los Angeles Superior Court for age discrimination, claims the TV writers cannot find work because the entertainment companies favor younger employees.

It's the third class action bias lawsuit the AARP Foundation attorneys have been involved in this year. The others were an employment case against Ford Motor Co. and an age discrimination case against Allstate Corp.

"They're similar to those in that they're large in scope and magnitude and because of the severity of the case, we've decided to join in as co-counsel," said Suzanne Miller, spokeswoman for AARP in California. "But they're different in the fact that this is a very pervasive issue that affects many of the residents in Los Angeles and their families."

The AARP attorneys, who are at AARP's headquarters in Washington, join Los Angeles-based law firm Schwartz Steinsapir Dohrmann & Sommers LLP, as well as Washington D.C. law firms Sprenger & Lang PLLC and Kator Parks & Weiser PLLC.

Defendants include NBC, CBS, Fox, Warner Bros. and the William Morris Agency Inc.

Solid Footing

Kirkpatrick & Lockhart LLP partner Thomas Poletti is now on the board of Manhattan Beach-based Skechers USA Inc. Poletti, who focuses on public and private equity as well as mergers and acquisitions, has served as corporate counsel to the footwear and apparel manufacturer for six years. He also serves on the board of Impac Mortgage Holdings Inc., a REIT finance lender in Newport Beach.



Staff reporter Amanda Bronstad can be reached at (323) 549-5225 ext. 225 or at abronstad@labusinessjournal.com.


Local Law Firms Are Planning Moderate Rate Hikes

Los Angeles law firms haven't sent out the first bills of the year yet, but their clients are bracing for higher fees when those letters arrive the next several weeks.

Firms often do not notify clients of rate increases in advance, and this year most are expected to show an increase in billing rates.

"I think they're sensitive to the marketplace," said Edward Poll, a legal consultant in Venice. "If it permits them to raise rates, they will. If the marketplace will not permit that, they won't. They will where they can because for many years they could not."

In early 1990s, he said, many firms froze rates for a few years after a prolonged recession hit the country. But with projections of an economic rebound in the third quarter, many firms are wary of holding the line on fees set annually at year-end for the entire year.

That's not to say law firms aren't ignoring the financial conditions of their clients. Many are raising rates, though perhaps at a slightly lower pace than in years past.

Mario Camara, a member of the executive committee at Los Angeles-based Cox Castle & Nicholson LLP, said he anticipates a "modest fee increase" in 2002.

"We'll take into account the economic realities of our clientele, as well as the economic realities of our business," Camara said. "It's not a one-way proposition. If we feel we are below market, which we believe we are, and we have to continue to pay market-driven salaries, chances are we will have a modest increase out there."

Mannatt Phelps & Phillips LLP has opted to freeze rates at which it bills for associates' work but will raise rates for partners, according to Paul Irving, chief executive and managing partner.

"At the lower levels, our decision reflects a significant concern about ensuring that our pricing is fair," Irving said. "At the upper levels, the issue is execution to our clients. If we do things we're capable of doing to increase value, we feel comfortable we deserve to be fairly compensated."

Still, some companies are skeptical their firms will go out of the way to save them dough. "We're more in tune to cost reduction this year," said Wayne Lovett, executive vice president and general counsel of Mercury Air Group Inc., a Los Angeles-based aviation services provider. "If somebody raises rates and doesn't tell me, they'll get a serious phone call. But we all expect them to try to get the costs up.

"What they do is, even if they reduce rates they increase the hours or they mix who they assign on the case," Lovett said.

-- AMANDA BRONSTAD

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