When downtown L.A. firm Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP hired a full-time videographer, the internal reaction was about what you’d expect.

“Everyone scratched their head and thought, ‘Really?’” said Chief Marketing Officer Vickie Spang. “It struck people as perhaps a little extravagant and foolhardy.”

Destri Martino, at the time an assistant to the chief talent officer in the firm’s downtown office, had minored in film production at USC and worked for several years in the film industry. So she volunteered for the role of video communications producer when she heard rumblings about the position.

She was at first tasked with shooting and archiving continuing legal education classes for attorneys. The firm gradually found other uses for her, and today there’s almost not enough of her to go around. Martino shoots recruiting videos for the web and, in April, put together video profiles of each of the firm’s 10 offices for a partner retreat.

Upcoming projects include filming associate training, and interviews with partners who made lateral moves from other firms that can be given to other prospective lateral recruits.

Martino, 35, said that attorneys got on board when they realized she wasn’t an amateur.

“There was one practice group that did videotape (continuing education) programs before, but the quality was really bad,” she said. “Having someone come in and set the camera in a place that made sense so people can hear them properly, it makes a big difference. That helped to sell it so people would actually watch, instead of looking at something and thinking, ‘I can’t stand to look at it more than a few minutes.’”

Spang and Martino said they had not heard of any other local firms who have a similar full-time position.

Summer Jobs

Call it the summertime blues.

Of the 114 law firms that responded this year to American Lawyer Magazine’s summer hiring survey, 19 reported that they hired more than 100 summer associates in 2009.

This year, there were only two: Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP and Latham & Watkins LLP, both L.A firms. What’s more, their hiring was down. Both reported class sizes of 110 this summer; a year ago, Gibson Dunn had 150 and Latham 156.

“We made adjustments we thought were appropriate given the economic conditions, but the firm’s been busy,” said Steve Sletten, chair of Gibson Dunn’s hiring committee. “Our practice is running on eight cylinders across both litigation and corporate groups.”

Indeed, the reductions weren’t nearly as dramatic as those reported at New York-based Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom LLP, which dropped from 223 in 2009 to 79 this year, or New York-based Cravath Swaine & Moore LLP, which cut its summer class from 123 to 23.

In fact, summer class sizes of L.A. firms in general suffered fewer cuts than the nationwide average. The seven L.A. firms that responded to the survey slashed summer classes by an average of 31 percent, compared with 44 percent nationally.

Startup Spirit

He doesn’t remember exactly why, but Neal Salisian started telling people he wanted his own law firm back when he was in high school.

He started seriously considering that possibility again a few years ago, as an associate in the L.A. office of Philadelphia-based Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP. Then, late last month, at the age of 30, he opened the doors to the downtown L.A. offices of Salisian Lee LLP, which he co-founded with Richard Lee, another former Morgan Lewis associate.

Salisian and Lee will focus on providing legal services to owners of small to medium-size businesses. They’re already working with about 20 clients, including real estate developers and sports agents.

“The timing was right in terms of the opportunities out there for small businesses, with the economy turning south and businesses looking for ways to save costs,” Salisian said.

Lee, 35, said he’d been frustrated with the inefficiencies at some of the law firms he’s worked at, but never considered starting his own until Salisian reached out to him.

“He was kind of the impetus of this. I had always taken the safe route in life, working in big firms,” Lee said. “Neal has an entrepreneurial spirit and an enthusiasm about him that’s infectious.”

New Name

Century City-based Jeffer Mangels Butler & Marmaro LLP is now officially Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell LLP. Burton Mitchell, who’s been at the firm for almost 25 years, was elevated to name partner after the judicial appointment of former name partner Marc Marmaro to Los Angeles Superior Court.

Mitchell is the firm’s assistant managing partner and also heads its tax group. In addition to taxation, his practice focuses on estate planning and trust law.

Staff reporter Alfred Lee can be reached at alee@labusinessjournal.com or at (323) 549-5225, ext. 221.

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