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Manatt Severs Two Practice Groups in Washington

Manatt Severs Two Practice Groups in Washington

By AMANDA BRONSTAD

Staff Reporter

Manatt Phelps & Phillips LLP, citing poor financial performance, has dissolved two practice groups in its Washington, D.C. office.

The Los Angeles law firm, known for its lobbying and regulatory work in California, shut down its telecommunications and international trade and customs groups in July, letting go 15 attorneys, including one equity partner, according to Paul Irving, Manatt’s chief executive and managing partner. Several staff members were also dismissed.

The firm also closed its one-person office in Monterey, Mexico, which was focused on international trade and customs.

“They have been diluting our financial results,” Irving said of the two regulatory-focused groups, declining to discuss specific numbers. “It was material enough to cause us to pay attention to it and make some decisions that needed to be made.”

The poor financial performance of the groups was not reflective of the firm’s overall health. Revenues in 2002 hit $132 million, up from $84 million in 1999, Irving said.

A former partner at Manatt’s Washington, D.C. office, who requested anonymity, said that when there was a conflict of interest representing a client, management in L.A. always sided with the West Coast client, making new business hard to come by for the Washington office.

“Manatt is struggling to figure out what kind of firm it is nationally and is having trouble figuring out what that means on the East Coast,” the former partner said.

Bill Sonenfield, president of legal placement firm Paradigm Attorney Search LLC in Washington, said the Washington offices of many firms have suffered as lobbying and regulatory work, already billed at lower rates than traditional legal work, has declined during the economic downturn.

In June, Abbe Lowell, the former administrative partner of the Washington, D.C. office, left for Chadbourne & Parke LLP. Lowell, who was chief minority investigative counsel for the House of Representatives during the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, had been with Manatt for three years.

When Lowell joined in 1999, the office had about 50 attorneys. There are now 33, including 19 in the government and policy department.

Two partners remain in the Washington telecommunications group along with two associates and one of counsel lawyer.

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