Dan Grunfeld left his post as one of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s top policy advisors to join the Century City office of Kaye Scholer LLP.

But before Grunfeld starts his duties as co-chairman of the firm’s litigation department on Nov. 2, he’s fitting in some rest and relaxation.

“I’m going to head off to Vietnam for three weeks of bicycling and scuba diving,” Grunfeld said. “I think it’s my first vacation since my honeymoon 20 years ago.”

Grunfeld served for two years as the deputy chief of staff for policy in Villaraigosa’s administration for two years. He joined Villaraigosa’s office from the pro bono organization Public Counsel, where he served as chief executive for 10 years. Previously, he was a partner in the Century City office of McDermott Will & Emery LLP.

At Kaye Scholer, he will be focusing on green technology, alternative energy, media and entertainment law, health care and venture capital.

“You make decisions like this partly on objective criteria, but also based on your gut,” Grunfeld said. “And that’s the way I’ve made my decisions in the past. And Kaye Scholer just felt like the right place for me for the next chapter of my life.”

Stepping Down

U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Larson surprised the legal community when he announced two weeks ago that he was stepping down to make more money in private practice.

In a letter to his colleagues, Larson said his resignation was due to the government’s failure to increase judicial salaries, and even the loss of cost of living adjustments.

“Over the course of the summer I started reflecting on it,” Larson said. “And it became clear that there wasn’t going to be a cost of living adjustment going forward.”

Federal district court judges make about $169,000 per year. By comparison, first-year associates at Los Angeles’ largest law firms make at least $160,000 per year.

Although Larson’s salary as a federal judge is still a hefty sum to the average American, he has seven children – ages 2 to 13. What’s more, Larson has been in public service for 18 years. He joined the Los Angeles U.S. Attorney’s Office in 1991, and was appointed a magistrate judge in 2000 in the Central District’s Riverside division. President Bush nominated him to serve as a federal district court judge in 2005.

Since becoming a federal district court judge, Larson has overseen some high-profile cases including the protracted legal battle between Mattel Inc. and MGA Entertainment Inc. over the Bratz fashion dolls.

U.S. District Court Judge David Carter, who sits in Santa Ana, was assigned the Bratz case last week at a hearing where Larson ordered Mattel to file paperwork outlining the El Segundo toymaker’s settlement demands.

Larson said the battle between Mattel and MGA has been one of the most challenging cases he’s presided over.

Piano Hands

When Helen Kim moved to Los Angeles from New York City 10 years ago, she wanted to meet some of her fellow female practitioners in the area.

So Kim joined the Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles, the largest local women’s bar association with about 1,000 members, and started networking.

The association installed her as the organization’s first Asian-American president two weeks ago.

“We provide an opportunity to network,” said Kim, a partner in the Century City office of Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP, “and provide each other with guidance, support, and inspiration.”

The Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles was founded in 1919, and its members include attorneys from private law firms, corporate law departments, government agencies and federal and state court judges.

Kim said she plans to continue focusing on the association’s efforts to promote retention and promotion of female attorneys in the workplace.

At Katten Muchin, Kim specializes in securities litigation, representing public and private companies, and their directors, officers and shareholders, in complex commercial cases.

Before starting law school, she received a master’s degree in classical piano performance from the Juilliard School, and at one point even played with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

But Kim said her parents encouraged her to give law school a try, and after one year at Yale, she switched career paths.

“Going to law school that first year was life-changing,” Kim said. “And I shipped my piano home.”

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

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