When Chicago law firm Jenner & Block LLP opened an office in downtown Los Angeles last year, part of the reason was to strengthen its connections to the entertainment industry.

That’s something that management hopes the office’s newest partner, A.J. Thomas, will bring to the table. Thomas, who specializes in entertainment litigation and “soft” intellectual property – copyrights and trademarks instead of patents – is the fifth partner and 13th attorney to join the office since it opened in April 2009.

Thomas, 44, was previously a partner in the downtown L.A. office of Seattle-based Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, where he represented clients including NBC Universal, Fox, Sony Pictures and Viacom.

Thomas said he wasn’t bringing any litigation with him but hoped to work with some of the same clients again.

“It was particularly appealing to become part of (Jenner & Block’s) effort to establish a presence on the West Coast,” he said. “It’s a chance to get in on the ground floor, and that’s a very exciting challenge I’m looking forward to at this point in my career.”

Rick Richmond, managing partner of the firm’s downtown office, said that the office has grown steadily, and is planning to add more attorneys. Initially, the only two attorneys were Richmond and Brent Caslin, who both came from Kirkland & Ellis LLP, a Chicago-based firm.

Among the office’s clients are power company AES Corp. and technology conglomerate Honeywell International. It’s also worked with Japanese companies that have a Southern California presence, including Mitsubishi Electric.

“We don’t have a giant, superkiller case,” Richmond said, “but we’re pretty busy right now.”

Growth Spurt

Brentwood-based Valle Makoff LLP has been doing some growing of its own lately. Between its founding in 2002 and 2008, the firm was never larger than five attorneys, but in the last 18 months, the head count has jumped to 16. A merger in January with San Francisco boutique Makoff and Associates added five attorneys, and additional offices in San Francisco and Walnut Creek.

The economy’s downturn has been good for some boutique litigation firms that offer clients lower rates and alternative fees, founding partner Jeff Valle said. “It’s a good time in the economy for firms like ours.”

Before founding his own firm, Valle was co-head of the intellectual property and entertainment group at the downtown L.A. office of Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom LLP. Nine of Valle Makoff’s 16 attorneys were formerly at Skadden, almost all of them associates who worked with Valle.

Long term, Valle envisions the firm growing to as many as 30 attorneys. Particularly big wins for the firm have included victories for Stamps.com and Valeant Pharmaceuticals, which were both sued for tens of millions of dollars.

“The model of our firm is basically big firm lawyers at much lower prices and lower overhead,” said Valle, 54. “I’m able to tell clients that I was a partner at Skadden and I have essentially a team here with me now that was at Skadden.”

Real Estate Couple

To the ranks of former big law firm attorneys starting their own outfits, add Ari and Laura Brumer. The husband and wife team have been running Brumer Law Group, a real estate boutique, out of Valencia since June.

Ari Brumer has been a partner at Century City-based firms Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell LLP and Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinger LLP. Most recently, he was general counsel for data center operator CoreSite.

The couple met at Jeffer Mangels, where Laura Brumer was an associate. She also worked at downtown L.A.-based Paul Hastings Janofsky & Walker LLP and as a real estate broker.

Real estate hasn’t exactly been booming, so the Brumers won’t be operating as a strictly traditional real estate law firm. In addition to the usual transactional work, Ari Brumer, 38, plans to keep a foot in the telecommunications industry. He has about 10 years experience helping clients leasing data centers to companies that need space to operate their computer systems.

“In my mind there are a lot less data center attorneys out there than there are real estate attorneys, so I can see that developing a little stronger,” he said.

Laura Brumer, 33, will provide in-house brokerage services to clients, such as locating real estate deals or helping to evict commercial tenants.

The Brumers, like a lot of boutique attorneys, believe lower rates will draw more clients in the downturn. Ari Brumer bills about $295 per hour, instead of the $500 to $600 rate he charged at larger firms. Work has been picking up, but the couple doesn’t expect the firm to get bigger than four attorneys anytime soon.

“At first we didn’t know what the temperature was going to be out there for this because of what’s going on with the economy,” said Laura Brumer. “But when people hear about our prices and experience, or they might know us from deals we’ve done in the past, they sign up.”

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

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