Christie Parker & Hale, a boutique intellectual property law firm in Glendale that had catered to a slew of L.A. companies since 1954, merged with giant Phoenix firm Lewis Roca Rothgerber last week.
Its 38 lawyers in Glendale, plus two others based in Irvine, are now part of a network of nearly 300 attorneys in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico.
The combined firm – Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie – plans to publicly announce the merger Jan. 4, according to Greg Lampert, former CPH managing partner who spoke to the Business Journal about the deal last month. Lampert added that the local office will continue to focus exclusively on IP work.
Downtown L.A. apparel company Guess Inc., Commerce grocer Smart & Final Stores Inc., USC and UCLA are among local clients that Lampert’s team has assisted with patent and trademark registrations and protection over the years, he said. But Lampert expects the merger, which had been in the works since 2014, will help drive even more business.
CPH, despite its narrow focus, ranked No. 85 on the Business Journal’s most recent list of largest law firms in Los Angeles County.
But now that it has combined forces, it might not be long before Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie moves higher up the list.
Yet despite the anticipated extra business, Lampert said he had long been against joining forces with another law firm.
“We’ve been pursued by the big general practice firms for years but we’ve always liked our independence,” he said. “Our attitude was that we’d listen but it’s not like we’re actively looking to merge.”
But Lampert started to have a change of heart a couple of years ago when he realized the local legal landscape was becoming much tougher for smaller firms to stay competitive in.
It used to be rare for a business to find a general practice law firm, such as Lewis Roca Rothgerber, that handled IP work, he said, and many big firms would refer clients to boutique shops such as his. But increasingly, those firms are acquiring or merging with niche IP firms to keep more business in-house.
“As a consequence of that, what we’ve seen is more and more of our clients are looking to bigger firms to handle their IP litigation,” he said. “We still continue to do that but we felt, to be more competitive in that area, it made more sense to join with a larger firm.”
With Kenneth Van Winkle Jr. at the helm, Lewis Roca Rothgerber had just become one of the 200 largest law firms in the United States through a separate deal that closed in 2013.
Still, Van Winkle was looking to fill a hole at the time he was introduced to Lampert.
“We’ve had for years a very, very strong intellectual property practice,” Van Winkle said. “But the one piece that was missing was a major expansion into the patent practice.”
Merger discussions really started to accelerate by May of last year, he said. But at the same time, Van Winkle, who’s based in Phoenix, knew he would need a solid strategy in place before his firm could enter the L.A. market.
Because the legal market in Los Angeles is already saturated with dozens of full-service law firms competing for clients, Van Winkle said Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie will try to set itself apart here by focusing only on intellectual property.
“That’s why we’re sticking to our strengths, due to our respect for those firms,” he said. “But we think at this point we do have the capability to compete in the intellectual property world.”
The firm’s other offices, which will all remain in their present locations, will continue to offer a wider array of legal services, said Van Winkle, who now serves as managing partner of the combined law firm.
Lampert, now part of the Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie executive committee, plans to stay in Glendale, where his firm has been since it relocated from Pasadena in 2011.
While no one will be forced to relocate, Van Winkle said the firm would certainly support lawyers who might want to make the move to Los Angeles. In fact, he said several people moved to Denver shortly after the 2013 merger closed.
Plus, depending on the level of growth after this month’s merger, the firm might need to start hiring additional IP lawyers.
Demand for intellectual property legal work – whether it’s registering with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office or suing a competitor that may have infringed on something already registered – should remain strong in 2016, Lampert said.
“The advantage that intellectual property practitioners have versus other legal areas is that companies that are still spending money on research and development only have a limited time to protect their inventions,” Lampert said. “Once it’s been out there more than a year, you lose the ability to patent that technology.”
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