Eric Reimer had spent nine good years at the Los Angeles office of McDermott Will & Emery LLP. But Goodwin Procter LLP wanted him to jump ship and bring his corporate practice to the more prominent firm's Century City outpost.

The combination of his corporate practice with Goodwin's private equity group proved too tempting to pass up.

"It was a tough decision because I was well situated there," Reimer said. "It had to be a unique situation for me to move."

Elliot Hinds, Marc Jones and Q. Scott Kaye also left the L.A. office of Chicago-based McDermott, joining Reimer as partners at Goodwin.

The addition of the McDermott quartet early this month was the latest coup for 850-attorney Goodwin, which has grown in Los Angeles to 29 lawyers since its Century City office opened in April 2006 and its downtown Los Angeles office opened in July 2007.

The Boston-based firm's growth in Los Angeles is a rare accomplishment for a firm that charges higher rates than most of its regional competitors.

Los Angeles is a middle-market business economy with few large banking institutions, and clients often bristle at paying large-market rates upward of $600 per hour for legal services. So large corporate firms that command high rates often find it difficult to compete for business.

"This market is a little sobering on rates at times, and to be attractive in Los Angeles it helps to have rate flexibility" said Dan Hatch, a partner with legal search firm Major Lindsey & Africa LLC. "Premier rate firms like Goodwin have to carefully navigate this issue."

Peter Zeughauser, a Newport Beach-based legal industry analyst, said the firm may find it challenging to continue growing both its L.A. offices.

"Most firms have found that having two offices in Los Angeles is difficult, and it hasn't worked for them," he said, explaining that it's difficult to build a critical mass of lawyers when they're split into two locations. "I think Goodwin will ultimately come to the same conclusion."

Different approach

Legal analysts said other East Coast-based firms that moved into the Los Angeles market during the last decade haven't enjoyed success similar to Goodwin's.

Boston-based Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo PC opened a Century City office at the beginning of the decade. The office, which houses two lawyers, hasn't grown since.

Unlike Mintz Levin, Goodwin successfully expanded its offices without altering its premium billing rates. Instead, industry observers and firm leaders said Goodwin made a name for itself in Los Angeles by recruiting top-notch talent from a small pool of lawyers who already bill at high rates.

Two years ago, Goodwin opened offices in Century City and San Francisco. Since their West Coast debut, the firm has added offices in Palo Alto, San Diego and downtown Los Angeles.

"This is the first time I have seen a firm almost simultaneously open up five offices in California, and be successful in staffing those offices with major players," said Alan Miles, a Los Angeles-based legal recruiter with Alan Miles & Associates Inc.

Firm leaders focus on Goodwin's core practice groups, including real estate, private equity, venture capital, intellectual property and securities litigation.

Goodwin recruits top lawyers in each of the targeted practice areas. Their strategy of hiring lateral partners contrasts with that of other firms, which typically absorb groups of lawyers from boutiques or merge with a firm that has offices in the area.

"The whole mission of providing best-in-class legal counsel is not done by acquiring big groups and merging with big firms. It's all about the people. It's like selecting your fave five," said Lewis G. Feldman, chairman of the firm's two Los Angeles offices and a member of the management committee.

Feldman, a $10 million-a-year rainmaker specializing in structuring large-scale financing for real estate developers and public sector projects, started Goodwin Procter's Century City office with a group of three other lawyers who moved from Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP when the office opened.

He led the group of Goodwin lawyers who represented AEG when it was negotiating with the city of Los Angeles over financing for the entertainment group's L.A. Live project.

Goodwin started in Los Angeles with a burgeoning real estate practice, and the focus on the sector continued when the firm opened its downtown office with prominent real estate investment trusts lawyer Dean Pappas.

Pappas left his post as head of the Los Angeles real estate group for Mayer Brown Rowe & Maw LLP to join Goodwin. In the process, Pappas recruited partner Dani L. Vogt. Both lawyers represented real estate investment management firm MacFarlane Partners in negotiations to develop the $900 million hotel and residences at the L.A. Live project.

"It took me about a year to make the decision to join Goodwin," Pappas said. "But the consistent quality of the lawyers in the real estate area drove my decision to join."

Prominent position

Rainmakers Feldman and Pappas strengthen the firm's national real estate practice group, but Goodwin has successfully expanded its practice base beyond real estate.

Former Alschuler Grossman lawyer Rachel Simonoff Wexler added depth to Goodwin's Century City office when she joined the firm as partner. Wexler focuses her practice on private equity and venture capital deals, advising clients in all stages of their investments and financing.

Robert McGahan, the former federal prosecutor who led the government's case against plaintiffs powerhouse Milberg Weiss LLP, now known as Milberg LLP, joined Goodwin's downtown Los Angeles office in February.

The hiring of McGahan is vital for Goodwin in its efforts to build a West Coast presence for its white-collar criminal defense and securities investigation department.

The firm is known for defending corporations locked in disputes with shareholders. Goodwin attorneys are representing longtime client Countrywide Financial Corp. in federal shareholder lawsuits that have been filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. McGahan declined to comment on whether he is working on Countrywide's cases.

Before joining the firm, McGahan didn't know any Goodwin partners. But he said the firm became an attractive option when he learned about its culture.

Oftentimes, attorneys who work at firms with offices throughout the U.S. feel they're not fully integrated into the larger group. Not so at Goodwin.

"I was impressed by the firm's commitment to a 'one-firm' concept. Even though there are many different offices, we really are one firm," McGahan said.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.