EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been changed from the print version to correct the name of Ann Marie Mortimer in the second item.

The recent hiring of commercial litigator Gary Urwin as a partner in Edwards Wildman Palmer LLP’s Beverly Hills office is a signal of the Boston firm’s aggressive new growth plans for the L.A. area.

Since 500-attorney Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge merged with 150-attorney Wildman Harrold Allen & Dixon last year, one of the new firm’s priorities has been expanding its West Coast outpost. Its attorney head count in Beverly Hills has roughly doubled to 17 attorneys, and the firm has also signed a lease to move to larger digs in Century City in February to make way for further expansion.

Urwin, a commercial litigator formerly at the Century City office of Hogan Lovells LLP, cited the growth as a reason for jumping to his new firm.

“One of the reasons I’m excited to move my practice here is because the firm supports the L.A. office,” he said.

Firm Chairman Alan Levin said he wants to at least double the current size of the L.A. office to a “critical mass” of 35 to 50 lawyers in the next year or two. He wants to hire attorneys in areas including intellectual property, finance and commercial litigation.

“Los Angeles and California are a significant component to our long-term strategic plan,” he said. “In order to describe ourselves as having a national footprint and as a global firm, we needed to move out to the West Coast.”

Meanwhile, Urwin’s old firm has shrunk in size in Los Angeles since its own 2010 merger, between Washington, D.C.’s Hogan & Hartson and London’s Lovells. Hogan’s Century City office lists 23 attorneys on its website, down from more than 50 in 2010. Some of the departing attorneys, including a team of heavyweight intellectual property attorneys, left due to conflicts of interest after the merger.

Expanding Environmental Group

Another national firm that has been steadily strengthening its L.A. beachhead is Richmond, Va.’s Hunton & Williams LLP. The trial powerhouse opened an office of eight attorneys in downtown Los Angeles in 2006. Today the headcount is around 25, with attorneys Colleen Doyle and Diana Martin joining earlier this month.

They add to one of the firm’s core strengths: environmental law. Doyle, 59, said she was attracted in particular by Hunton’s strong environmental compliance practice.

She and Martin previously worked closely together on a combination of environmental litigation and compliance in the downtown L.A. office of Bingham McCutchen LLP. But, she said, Bingham has made a turn toward emphasizing litigation more, in part because several of its environmental compliance gurus have left in recent years. Kevin Poloncarz, former climate change practice co-chair, left the firm’s San Francisco office for Paul Hastings LLP earlier this year, and former L.A. partner Pat Shanks retired several years ago.

“Bingham doesn’t have as broad based a compliance practice as Hunton does in the areas that our clients are increasingly interested in,” Doyle said.

Her clients, which include petroleum and metal refining companies, are facing tightening restrictions, including more stringent state and federal permits for companies looking to discharge wastewater and increased scrutiny by federal regulators related to air quality.

Ann Marie Mortimer, managing partner of Hunton’s L.A. office, said the firm would like to reach more than 50 attorneys in Los Angeles in the next three to five years. Among other areas, the firm is looking for attorneys who can support its environmental and privacy practices, and its financial institution clients.

“We are absolutely looking to grow,” Mortimer said.

Inside Out

Three years ago, Joseph Schohl founded GeneralCounselWest PC, a law firm serving as a kind of external general counsel for emerging companies without in-house attorneys. He had previously been general counsel at DaVita Healthcare Partners Inc., a Fortune 500 company that moved that same year from El Segundo to Denver.

“I thought there was a real need for smaller, growing companies to have access to sophisticated legal counsel,” he said.

Since then, his idea has found traction with health care and life sciences companies making annual revenue between $25 million and $150 million. Revenue has doubled each year at his fledgling Westlake Village firm, he said, and he’s hired two other attorneys this year. In October, the firm moved to new space elsewhere in Westlake Village to accommodate the modest growth.

At between $300 and $500 an hour, the 44-year-old charges lower rates than traditional outside counsel, but is more expensive per hour than a full-time in-house attorney. Some of his clients have grown large enough to begin hiring their own general counsel, but still send work his way. He sees continued growth in his niche.

“There’s a ton of these health care companies out there that are private equity-backed and poised for growth,” he said. “The increased regulations make them realize that they need to be on legal support even early on, and they don’t have anybody inside to help manage that.”

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

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