Editor's Note: This story has been corrected from the print edition to note that the combination between Alston & Bird and Weston Benshoof becomes official Sept. 1.

Three law firms from the Southern United States have moved into Los Angeles, a trend that's driven by the firms' desire for growth and client demand for services from firms that have wider geographic reach.

Atlanta, Ga.-based Alston & Bird LLP became the latest Southern firm to make its way west. That happened last month when the 900-attorney firm announced it was merging with Los Angeles-based Weston Benshoof Rochefort Rubalcava MacCuish LLP.

In the last three years, Hunton & Williams LLP and McGuireWoods LLP, both based in Richmond, Va., opened up shop in Los Angeles, and have grown their offices to 16 and 44 attorneys, respectively.

Some clients need firms that have offices in a wide variety of locations across the country because they often have legal matters to take care of in other cities.

"Weston Benshoof does no tax work at all," said Mark Rochefort, a founding partner of the firm. "There are over 80 tax lawyers at Alston & Bird, so for any issues we have for Exxon Mobil that involves tax matters, we will be able to respond promptly and with expertise, whereas before we were not able to respond to those issues."

In addition to Exxon Mobil Corp., other Weston Benshoof clients include Chevron Corp. and DuPont.

Industry insiders said the coupling between Southern-based and Los Angeles regional firms may be a natural fit because they have similar business structures.

In the past, powerhouse New York firms tried to move into the L.A. market, but couldn't bill high enough rates so they've moved on. That leaves room for expansion for firms that charge more modest fees.

"It gives them more opportunity in a market that has less high-rate work and more middle-market work," said legal recruiter Dan Hatch, a partner with search firm Major Lindsey & Africa LLC.

But as these Southern firms attempt to make a name for themselves in L.A., they will find themselves competing in an already crowded legal market.

Forty-five full-service national firms have offices in L.A., mostly downtown or Century City. During the past five years, 20 out-of-state firms have established offices in California, bringing the total number to 60.

It could be a struggle.

"Firms that come here won't have a lot of brand," Hatch said. "And you are competing with a lot of very serious players that are already here."


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