International law firm McGuireWoods LLP expanded its foothold in the Los Angeles market last week by acquiring Van Etten Suzumoto & Becket LLP, a mid-sized regional player.

McGuire opened an L.A. office in September with two just lawyers, while the 40-lawyer Van Etten firm started looking for a buyer in December.

The two firms share areas of expertise: labor and employment, real estate and commercial litigation. And over the past few years, the two firms have done business at each other's offices in an effort to serve their clients on both coasts.

"We had a number of clients in Southern California we'd been doing work with for a number of years and they encouraged us to open an office, which we did last year," said Bill Strickland of McGuire. "But we wanted to expand as soon as we could. We were looking for a firm with experience and expertise that would be most useful to our clients."

Meanwhile, David Van Etten, a name partner at the nearly 10-year-old regional law firm, said he talked to several suitors before committing to McGuire, saying the acquisition market is highly competitive right now.

"We were getting to the point where we needed significantly more administrative support," said. "We have lawyers who have clients asking for us to provide services in other locations."

Although he will be the managing partner of the newly combined firm in Los Angeles, Van Etten said he's looking forward to having a national management structure in place and having his time freed up from operations. The combined firm will have about 45 lawyers in L.A. The merger should be final by April 1.

Seeing Yellow
Steven A. Velkei at Liner Yankelevitz Sunshine & Regenstreif LLP is waiting for a response from Verizon Communications on a class-action complaint filed in February. Velkei represents Cellular Abroad Inc. and other California business owners who claim to have been renewed for Yellow Pages listings without their consent.

Velkei estimates that the class action, if approved, could apply to hundreds of thousands of people.

"It appears to us, based on the form letter that this is a policy and practice where they'll automatically renew you," Velkei said. "But they don't send you the bill until they've placed the ad and if you don't pay it, they send you to collection."

A Verizon official said the company does not comment on pending litigation.


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