What a difference a year makes.

Around this time last year, Westside law firms Christensen Glaser Fink Jacobs Weil & Shapiro LLP and Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinger LLP were both still reeling from the departures of several lawyers, including name partners.

Former Christensen Glaser name partner Skip Miller left the firm in May 2006 and would eventually hang his own shingle, and the following month Greenberg Glusker name partner Dale Kinsella and nine other lawyers left that firm to set up their own shop.

The departures were widely seen as related to the racketeering and wiretapping federal investigation of celebrity private investigator Anthony Pellicano, which had already ensnared Terry Christensen, the managing partner of Christensen Glaser, who was indicted along with the sleuth in February 2006.

Many in Los Angeles' legal community thought it was only a matter of time before Bert Fields, Greenberg Glusker's top rainmaker and arguably Pellicano's No. 1 client, was also caught up in the probe. Lawyers and recruiters doubted the firms would survive the turmoil.

A year later they have more than survived, although it might be too much to say they are thriving. At both firms, a few graying partners are responsible for a disproportionately large percentage of revenues.

But the firms have certainly returned to a stable footing, as witnessed by recent lateral partner additions. Fields has never been charged with a crime and the threat of more indictments or further fallout from the Pellicano investigation is clearly waning.

Over the past four months Greenberg Glusker has added four new lateral partners. The most recent addition is Johnny Darnell Griggs, an employment and litigation attorney, who joined from Strategic Counsel, where he represented clients such as the Forum, and David Brewer, superintendent of Los Angeles Unified School District.

"The opportunity to practice at Greenberg Glusker prompted my move," Griggs said. "It is an exemplary firm with a practice deeply rooted in Los Angeles, as is mine."

Other additions to the firm have included intellectual property attorneys Rami Yanni and Steven Weinberg and real estate attorney James Hughes.

But Christensen Glaser has possibly scored the biggest lateral hire of the bunch, with addition of litigation attorney Brian Lysaght, who was previously a partner at DLA Piper LLP, where he headed the firm's West Coast litigation practice. Over the course of his more than 20-year career, Lysaght has practiced both as a white collar criminal defense attorney and commercial litigator. According to a release announcing the move he has won over $70 million in jury awards for his clients.

Another Merger

The urge to merge among California law firms continues. Los Angeles-based law firm Weston Benshoof Rochefort Rubalcava & MacCuish LLP is in merger discussions with Miller Starr Regalia PC, a Walnut Creek law firm.

The merger would combine two California regional firms that are known for their land use, environmental law and real estate practices.

Miller Starr has about 50 attorneys, and a satellite office in Palo Alto. Weston Benshoof has 70 attorneys practicing at offices in downtown Los Angeles and Westlake Village.

Eugene Miller, chairman of Miller Starr, declined to confirm or deny the reports. "We are always talking to people," Miller said. Edward Casey, managing partner of Weston Benshoof, did not return calls seeking comment.

The discussions highlight a series of moves by California-based firms looking to grow and expand within the state. Los Angeles-based Manatt Phelps & Phillips announced last week that it was opening a San Francisco office. Last year, Riverside-based firm Best Best & Krieger opened a Los Angeles office.

Mock Trial

Last week U.S. District Court Judge Consuelo Marshall's courtroom was the scene of an unusual trial, with an equally unusual jury.

The case involved a person accused of setting off firecrackers in a school locker, and the jury set to deliberate in the case included local politicians and other leading figures in the city's business and legal community.

The roles of prosecutor and defense attorney were filled by the participants in a 12-week program designed to introduce at-risk middle school students to the legal system.

Twenty-four lawyers at the law firm Bingham McCutchen LLP teamed up with the Heart of Los Angeles organization, which describes its mission as helping young people reach their potential, to put on this year's program.

"Most of our kids live at the poverty line and have to deal with a number of obstacles on a daily basis," said Tony Brown, executive director of the organization. "We are hoping the kids will walk away with improved self esteem and self confidence."

Students participating in the program also received homework assistance, leadership training, and mentoring.

Staff reporter Drew Combs can be reached at dcombs@labusinessjournal.com and at (323) 549-5225, ext. 228.

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