The troubled economy is likely to create a boom in white-collar law: As companies file bankruptcy plans and break contracts, suits will fly.

That's one of the reasons that downtown L.A. firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Edges LLP has added high-profile white-collar criminal defense attorney James Asperger to its ranks.

Name partner Bill Urquhart said it is critical that the firm is well-positioned with attorneys like Asperger who have government experience and are capable of representing clients dealing with fallout related to the down economy.

"Eventually there are going to be people who are prosecuted, companies that will be investigated and others who will be witnesses to all of this," Urquhart said. "And they all will need representation."

Asperger, a former assistant U.S. attorney, joined Quinn Emanuel's downtown office Feb. 4 from O'Melveny & Myers LLP, where he headed the firm's white-collar criminal practice.

"He is one of the most recognizable and respected lawyers in Los Angeles," Urquhart said.

Asperger will co-head the firm's white-collar criminal department in Los Angeles alongside Steve Madison.

Lawyers at the litigation powerhouse conduct internal corporate investigations, and represent publicly traded companies, audit committees, directors and officers in grand jury and Securities and Exchange Commission investigations.

Reduced Overhead

The secret to launching a law firm in these troubled times? Cut overheard.

That's what Christopher Reeder found when he started boutique Reeder Lu & Green LLP in late January.

Reeder, who opened the firm with longtime colleagues Beverly Lu and Gabriel Green, was able to reduce his hourly billing rate from $560 to $500 thanks to its small infrastructure, low square footage and minimum support staff.

"It's a benefit," Reeder said, adding that the firm's clients keep him as busy as he was when the economy was stronger.

Reeder said associates at the firm are now billing anywhere from $220 to $260 per hour, which is 25 percent less than the average billing rate for associates at large firms.

The firm, which opened Jan. 20, caters to a variety of clients, including real estate developers, franchisors, automobile dealerships and health care providers.

Reeder, who previously practiced at L.A. firm Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP, first met Lu and Green when the three worked together in the downtown L.A. office of Chicago firm Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell LLP.

Reeder Lu attorneys have been busy litigating cases between real estate developers and their lenders fallout from the crisis.

"With so many real estate ventures and loans going sour, there is more than enough complex business litigation to go around," Reeder said.

Legalzoom Litigation

It's a good thing legal document provider Legalzoom was founded by lawyers, because the Hollywood company is being sued for breaching its obligations in a business venture turned sour.

Legalzoom was launched by high-profile criminal defense attorney Robert Shapiro, attorneys Brian Liu and Brian Lee, and former technology executive Eddie Hartman. The company prepares legal documents for consumers, including estate planning, business formation and trademark documents.

L.A. attorney Kent Seton, who specializes in forming and advising non-profits and charities, sued Legalzoom on Feb. 5 in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Seton's Center for Nonprofit Creation entered into a business venture with Legalzoom in 2004, and Seton developed questionnaires that Legalzoom could use to help its customers establish non-profit organizations.

The completed non-profit questionnaires would then be sent to Seton's company, where his staff would prepare the tax-exempt status application that is required to form a non-profit. In return, Legalzoom paid Seton a fixed share of $350 per completed application; Seton received a total of $1.6 million from the company.

According to the lawsuit, Legalzoom breached the deal when it stopped sending questionnaires to the Center for Nonprofit Creation, but continued to use propriety information that Seton provided.

"Kent's impression was that they dropped him because they wanted to keep the proceeds for themselves," said Jay Spillane, Seton's attorney.

Legalzoom co-founder Liu said the company stopped using the Center for Nonprofit Creation because of several different business reasons, including customer dissatisfaction.

"There was no written agreement, and in my opinion and in our company's opinion, there is no rational basis for the lawsuit," he said.

Staff reporter Alexa Hyland can be reached at ahyland@labusinessjournal.com or at (323) 549-5225, ext. 235.

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