National litigation firm Hogan & Hartson LLP has consolidated its downtown and Century City locations into one 50-lawyer office in Century City.


The firm simultaneously hired Irell & Manella LLP's prominent intellectual property lawyer Rich de Bodo to head its West Coast IP practice and spearhead efforts to grow it.


"What really did it for me was the opportunity to take on a leadership role in IP and to work with a great group of people here in L.A. and throughout the country," de Bodo said.


De Bodo's move had experts buzzing. A star from one of the country's most respected IP firms jumping ship to grow a practice elsewhere and taking much of his highly-coveted client portfolio with him is a big deal in the market. For de Bodo, who operated in the shadow of superstar Morgan Chu (TiVo) at Irell & Manella, it's a chance to step out and make a name for himself.


As for the office move, Hogan & Hartson Los Angeles Managing Partner Neil O'Hanlon said the motive was to get all the local attorneys under one roof, rather than cutting costs.


"It was primarily for practice reasons," O'Hanlon said. "One major component of what we do is entertainment and media, and the Westside connection made a lot of sense, being close to our clients and historically those practices have been found there. With our representation of clients in the industry, it's close to being essential."


Entertainment law powerhouses Christensen Glaser Fink Jacobs Weil & Shapiro LLP and Greenberg Glusker LLP are both based in Century City.


New arrivals Goodwin Procter LLP and Miller Barondess LLP have both set up shop in Century City within the last few months. International firm Foley & Lardner LLP's only L.A. office is in Century City.


Hogan found itself with two L.A. offices as a result of a 2002 merger with Squadron Ellenoff. Hogan had the downtown office and Squadron had the Westside location. The two leases expired within about a year, and so the firm chose face-to-face interaction over constant video conferencing.


Going, Going
While would-be homebuyers are scanning the real estate section for foreclosures, a handful of lawyers are quietly busying themselves with bankruptcy auctions.


It's not the wide array of distressed assets up for grabs but rather the amount of money chasing deals that is driving the surge in activity, said Peter Gilhuly, a partner at Latham & Watkins LLP.


"I personally am busier than I've ever been," Gilhuly said. "I've never had so many auctions in such a short time. Hedge funds and private equity funds have a lot of money to buy distressed assets and they're looking for a place to put it to work and are increasingly looking into insolvency cases to find good buys."


He added that with interest rates expected to go up and a wave of foreclosures anticipated early next year, he could be getting even busier very soon. He said that he believes the feverish auction market is acting as a "Band-Aid" on the foreclosure market.


Gilhuly has handled several auctions recently, including one representing Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates, Ltd. in its $97 million acquisition of three California wineries run by Legacy Estate Group: Freemark Abbey in Napa Valley, Arrowood in Sonoma County and Byron in Santa Barbara County.


He's not the only one planning to get busier. Richard W. Lasater, managing partner Foley & Lardner LLP Los Angeles, confirmed that his office is staffing up on bankruptcy lawyers. Many other firms, including Sidley Austin LLP and Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom LLP, maintain that their corporate and bankruptcy lawyers transition between caseloads driven by economic profitability and subsequent hardship.


Two Houses
Another Los Angeles merger may be in the making. In a surprisingly transparent move, Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Nicholson Graham LLP and Preston Gates & Ellis LLP issued a release last week confirming that the two firms are in merger talks, but cautioning that a deal had not yet been reached. By Wednesday, however, the two firms weren't commenting.


A merger would create a 1,400-lawyer firm with 21 offices in North America, Europe and Asia. Kirkpatrick is a 1,000-attorney Boston-based firm and Preston is a 400-attorney firm based in Seattle. Kirkpatrick rose to 45th from 55th on the list of the country's most profitable law firms, with 2005 revenues of $469 million. Preston Gates was ranked 106th with $159 million in revenues. Both firms have L.A. offices.


Movers
Michael J. Halloran, senior corporate and securities partner at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP, is leaving the firm to serve as deputy chief of staff for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Christopher Cox. Halloran has been at Pillsbury for 32 years, founding the firm's Washington office in 1979. He left the firm from 1990 to 1996 to serve as Bank of America's general counsel. Skip Miller has selected another lawyer for his new firm, Miller Barondess. John Dellaverson, a Loeb & Loeb LLP partner until 2000, was executive vice president of Lions Gate and chairman of Cinegate for four years and then executive produced "Diary of a Mad Black Woman." He will serve as of counsel. Jennifer Hunt is a new toxic tort/product liability associate at Kirkpatrick & Lockhart.


Staff reporter Emily Bryson York can be reached at (323) 549-5225, ext. 235, or at eyork@labusinessjournal.com.

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