Silicon Valley’s largest and most storied law firm is opening an office in Los Angeles this week and it’s doing so with a splash: by poaching one of the area’s most highly regarded patent litigators.

Palo Alto’s Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati took Apple Inc. and Google Inc. public and is known as a go-to firm for tech startups. But its opening of a local office is initially fueled not as much by the draw of the L.A. startup scene as the chance to land Ed Poplawski, one of the city’s patent law heavyweights.

The firm, which has more attorneys in the Silicon Valley than any other, recruited Poplawski and four other partners from the downtown L.A. office of Sidley Austin LLP to start its L.A. outpost.

“This was driven by the opportunity to hire a talented team of patent litigators led by Ed,” said Doug Clark, co-managing partner of the firm.

To that end, the firm’s offices will be in the U.S. Bank Tower downtown – closer to the federal courthouse than the Westside’s burgeoning tech sector.

It’s not that the firm, which decades ago pioneered the practice of law firms taking equity in startup companies, doesn’t have an interest in the tech boom here. Last year, it represented L.A.-area companies in nearly 30 venture financings, according to Clark.

It will likely expand into several practice areas outside of patent litigation, including hiring corporate attorneys, and has taken enough space for about 30 attorney offices, Poplawski said.

“You have a number of startups that are forming in Los Angeles, and so with a brand like Wilson Sonsini coming in, they’re further positioned to capitalize on those kinds of opportunities,” he said.

Several Silicon Valley firms have opened in Los Angeles in the last year, chief among them Cooley LLP, which opened a Santa Monica outpost in July.

California Growth

Many national firms have opened L.A. offices in recent years, but Arent Fox LLP has arguably been the most successful. The Washington, D.C., firm opened with 10 attorneys in downtown Los Angeles in 2007, and today has grown to 74. Only a handful of other firms, new or old, have added that many attorney jobs in the area in that span.

It’s done so with more limited use of outside recruiters than most firms. Many of the attorneys at the litigation-heavy office were personally recruited by office Managing Partner Robert O’Brien, including Stephen G. Larson and Terree Bowers, who have since risen to head national practice groups at the firm.

The outpost has been so productive that it’s now leading the charge in opening a San Francisco office. When that office opens its doors in June, it will be mostly staffed by the firm’s L.A. attorneys, who will have either moved there or will split time between the two. O’Brien has been tapped to head both offices and promoted to California managing partner.

He said the firm has long planned to open a San Francisco office, but put those plans on hold due to the unexpectedly rapid growth in Los Angeles.

“I thought if we could get to 20 lawyers, that would be quite successful, but we’ve been growing at a rate of 10 lawyers a year,” he said. “Given that we’ve reached critical mass in Los Angeles, it was time to venture up to San Francisco.”

Rising Plaintiffs’ Firm

It’s been a busy six months for Michael Alder. His firm, AlderLaw PC, has grown to 16 from 10 attorneys and opened an office, its third, in Newport Beach, making it one of the largest nonclass-action personal injury firms in the area.

Now, he’s moved his headquarters from Beverly Hills to a larger space in Century City to accommodate that growth. The firm began subleasing about 18,000 square feet at $1.70 a square foot last month from Northrop Grumman Corp., which vacated the space at 1840 Century Park East after relocating its corporate headquarters to Virginia. The new office is more than three times larger than the firm’s previous one.

Alder is already one of the biggest names in the local plaintiffs’ bar, but he said rising recognition has led to more cases from clients and higher settlements from opponents. He’s also focusing more on business tort work, highlighted by a $33 million verdict against Pentel of America Ltd. for intellectual property theft on behalf of El Segundo ad agency Concept Chaser Co. Inc.

“I made a decision two or three years ago to expand as the business came in and it we just kept growing and growing,” he said.

News & Notes

Todd B. Scherwin has been named managing partner of the L.A. office of Fisher & Phillips LLP, a labor and employment firm based in Atlanta.

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

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