When London’s Norton Rose and Houston’s Fulbright & Jaworski merged in June to form Norton Rose Fulbright, the new firm’s downtown L.A. office was hit with significant exits. It quickly lost one-fifth of its attorneys, including the heads of its local health care, and labor and employment groups, to rival firms.

But firm leaders are looking to bounce back, starting with the recent addition of David Ben-Meir, a former partner at Alston & Bird’s downtown L.A. outpost. They’re counting on Ben-Meir to build out an intellectual property practice here for the firm.

“We were very sorry about the folks that left, but we are very excited about the prospects going forward,” said Peter Mason, partner in charge of Norton’s L.A. office. “We would not have been able to speak to a guy like David but for the combination.”

It is not uncommon for attorneys to leave after a merger due to client conflicts and other clashes, although those attorneys who left previously told the Business Journal the merger was not a factor in their decision.

The merger also offers opportunities, however. Ben-Meir, a patent litigation attorney with clients on both sides of the Pacific, cited Norton’s strong international presence and offices in Japan as a reason for joining.

“With my practice having a significant international component to it, particularly Asia focused and particularly in Japan, it looked like it could make a lot of sense for me,” he said. “To be the starting point for developing the IP practice here in Los Angeles was also very attractive to me.”

Ben-Meir’s addition brings the firm’s attorney count in Los Angeles to 44, still down from 54 before the merger. Mason said the office is looking to hire more lawyers, including other intellectual property attorneys and those handling cross-border transactional work. It has also placed a priority on hiring new labor and employment attorneys to replace the team of six it lost to Winston & Strawn.

Growing Startup

When Sklar Kirsh formed in February, its co-founders were banking on a lot of corporate and real estate transactional work for middle-market clients, at rates cheaper than what traditional big law firms offer.

They say the model’s worked so far. The firm has grown to 14 attorneys, up from nine in February, and has now moved into a larger space, signing a long-term lease valued at $4 million for 10,000 square feet at 1880 Century Park East in Century City. The space, down the street from its old offices, is large enough to accommodate up to 25 attorneys.

Co-founding Partner Andrew Kirsh said the firm, which charges rates less than $500 an hour, has been busy. Matters handled by the firm include representation of Pacshore Partners in its acquisition of creative office properties in Santa Monica for about $20 million, and handling asset sales for Lehman Bros. Holdings Inc. Sklar Kirsh has also made several hires from larger firms, most notably Jennifer Borow, formerly a partner at Century City’s Loeb & Loeb.

“We’re getting a lot of traction in the market,” Kirsh said. “We see there’s certainly a need to fill a void of sophisticated transactional law firm work, from former big law firm attorneys who are providing services at rates in line with clients’ expectations.”

Kirsh also said that before signing the new lease, firm leaders had considered reducing overhead by having attorneys work from home on some days, but decided against it.

“We talked about whether we wanted to go more virtual, whether we wanted to be more 21st century,” he said. “But in the end there’s something you gain in terms of intangibles when everyone is there together.”

New Entertainment Practice

Another firm making inroads in Los Angeles this year is New York’s Kasowitz Benson Torres & Friedman, which opened a Century City office in May.

Kasowitz, which focuses almost exclusively on complex litigation, launched the office with Jerry Oshinsky and Linda Kornfeld, two heavyweights in the field of insurance litigation. But the hiring last month of John Berlinski and Mansi Shah from NBCUniversal signals the firm is branching out into entertainment.

At NBCUniversal, Berlinski and Shah defended against profit-participation lawsuits. They’ll be taking the other side at Kasowitz, representing producers and actors in the same kinds of matters. The firm does not represent studios in transactional work, allowing them to take an adversarial position.

“We were approached over the years by representatives of talent to take our expertise to this niche area and to go on the other side to maximize profit-participation shares,” Berlinski said. “Kasowitz is a national litigation powerhouse unencumbered by studio conflicts.”

The firm’s L.A. office now has seven attorneys and could be well beyond 10 within the next year or two, said Kornfeld, who heads the L.A. office.

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

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