Last week Hunton & Williams LLP became the fourth East Coast law firm in six months to establish a Los Angeles office. Goodwin Procter LLP, Venable LLP and McGuireWoods LLP are all recent arrivals.


Hunton is different, however. Goodwin and McGuire are known for their real estate work. Venable is a business litigation and intellectual property firm. Richmond, Va.-based Hunton is a trial powerhouse with big tobacco defense work fueling much of its fire. This is the only West Coast office for the international firm, which has three Asian offices and two in Europe. Hunton now has about 850 lawyers in 13 offices in the U.S. and 18 worldwide.


To set up shop, Hunton snagged six partners and two associates trial from boutique O'Donnell & Mortimer LLP. Managing partner Pierce O'Donnell is one of the best-known trial attorneys in the country, leading products liability cases for Pfizer Inc. and intellectual property cases for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. regarding the James Bond brand.


His partner, Ann Marie Mortimer, is leaving the firm to head the new Hunton office.


"There's a time in every mentoring situation where the mentee has to step out of the shadow," said Mortimer, who added that she is grateful for the 10 years she worked with, and learned from, O'Donnell. While she is more interested in complex business litigation, O'Donnell has told her that he's more interested in civil justice work.


Another bonus of Mortimer was the firm's tendency to promote women within the firm.


"They really back up what they say in their diversity platform about being committed," said Mortimer, who was conducting the phone interview with her nine-month-old baby on her lap. She also has three stepchildren.


Partners Tim Toohey, Belynda Reck, Lisa Brant, Daniel Tepstein and Steve Valerio join Mortimer in the move.


Pfizer approves of this merger. Hunton & Williams was one of the largest and O'Donnell Mortimer one of the smallest firms selected to be part of Pfizer's Outside Counsel Partnering Program.


"We are very pleased that two of our highly esteemed firms have decided to unite," Sandra Phillips, chief litigation counsel for Pfizer. "Having worked with great lawyers from each firm, we are confident that the expanded Hunton & Williams will offer even stronger resources from the combination of these skilled attorneys."


This is unlikely to be the end of the story. Nine U.S. firms did $1 billion in business, or close to it, in 2005. Only four of those firms have L.A. offices. The region is attractive to big firms because of its thriving economy and many mid-sized firms have found Los Angeles to be welcoming because of the great real estate work.

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