The downtown L.A. office of Chicago’s Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal saw its attorney count fall to 30 from more than 70 in a 12-month period ended in spring 2009, due to a combination of departures and layoffs.

So when Sonnenschein merged with London’s Denton Wilde Sapte to form SNR Denton in 2010, attorneys in the L.A. outpost hoped the merger would reverse flagging momentum.

That proved only partially successful. Today, the firm’s attorney head count in Los Angeles is up to 37. Ron Kent, a partner in the L.A. office, said the growth had been “admittedly fairly slow, but in the right direction.”

Last month, the firm completed another merger – this time a three-way combination of SNR Denton, international firm Salans and Canadian firm Fraser Milner Casgrain, to form Dentons. The combination was structured as a Swiss verein, meaning that the three firms partner without integrating finances.

Again, attorneys are hoping that a larger international platform will bring in business to the local office and aid recruiting.

“I’ve been at the firm for over 22 years, and in all those years I haven’t been so excited about the future of the firm,” Kent said. “It’s going to increase exponentially the number of specialties and the number of great lawyers. You’re going to have opportunities to import and export business.”

He said the office did not have specific growth targets, but said there is room for an additional 30 to 35 lawyers. The office is looking to hire attorneys specializing in real estate, energy and litigation.

Bigger Digs

Philadelphia’s Blank Rome LLP, which opened an L.A. office with five attorneys in 2009, has now signed a 10-year lease at the Century Plaza Towers in Century City for 25,000 square feet – enough room for 50 lawyers.

The firm will move into its new offices at 2029 Century Park East from its current offices down the street at 1925 Century Park East by Labor Day.

The office has grown to 26 attorneys in the last four years and has plans for further expansion. Chief Operating Officer Patrick Cavanaugh said he would like to expand to 40 to 50 attorneys in the next 12 to 18 months. The office is looking to hire attorneys in areas including corporate, real estate, tax, litigation, intellectual property, labor and employment, and white-collar defense.

The firm also has the option to take on extra floors should it grow beyond that.

“We want meaningful growth,” Cavanaugh said. “We want to maybe not make this a full-service office, but we want to have core areas rounded out in 12 to 18 months.”

Mark S. Greenfield, a partner in the firm’s L.A. office, said the office has seen a boom in mergers and acquisitions work and corporate cases in the last year. It has handled local deals as well as deals outside the area, such as representing El Dorado, Ark., cable maker AmerCable in its $275 million acquisition by Paris’ Nexans.

“We’re seeing deals pick up again,” he said. “The corporate marketplace seems to be rebounding.”

Similar Move

Blank Rome isn’t the only firm clearing the way for future expansion with a move into the Century Plaza Towers.

Kansas City, Mo.’s Polsinelli PC took 26,000 square feet in the same building last month.

It also has seen a pickup in middle-market transactional and corporate work.

Polsinelli opened an L.A. outpost by acquiring six-attorney Century City firm Quateman LLP in July 2011. Now at 10 attorneys here, the firm decided to look beyond its 7,500-square-foot space.

Lisa Greer Quateman, managing partner of the L.A. office, said joining Polsinelli’s national platform allowed her to get business that had previously been out of reach to a boutique firm.

“I’m very pleased with the way it has gone,” she said. “We always had M&A expertise, but I wasn’t able to attract the deals I can attract through Polsinelli.”

The office is looking to hire attorneys in a wide variety of practices: health care, corporate, real estate, financial services, labor and employment, intellectual property, life sciences and energy.

“We have room for some significant growth here,” she said. “The firm is very committed to this market and to building this office.”

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

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