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Count on Reductions, Consolidations, Innovations at Law Firms

The year 2012 will be one of change in the legal community. As another challenging year closed last week, larger firms were reconciling billings that didn’t match overhead. So 2012 promises more reductions, consolidations and new, innovative divisions that can gain market share at more affordable billing rates.

Arguably, and that’s what we do, that’s really not much of a change from recent years. According to our recently published Book of Lists, among the top 15 law firms in San Diego, there was virtually no growth in 2010 — the most current data available — when most years there is significant growth. However, the net gain of two local attorneys as of Jan. 1, 2011, at the 15 largest local firms was much more encouraging than the net loss of 94 San Diego lawyers in 2009.

Several firms appeared to lose entire practice areas to other firms, usually smaller specialty firms, in 2011. Regular readers of this column have watched a number of attorneys move from one firm to another, again, often a smaller, more focused firm. Those narrow-practice firms appeared to have fared better in 2011, but all will be equally challenged this year.

Many will meet the challenge, certainly. Susan Hack will. The Higgs Fletcher & Mack LLP partner was elected president of the Honorable William B. Enright Inn of Court for the 2012-2014 term. Her term commences June 1.

The Honorable William B. Enright Inn of Court was formed in 1991 with the specific goal of creating an atmosphere of camaraderie among lawyers and judges by offering them the opportunity to learn from one another. Hack will succeed the Honorable Maureen F. Hallahan as president.

Evan Ravich recently joined Judkins, Glatt & Hulme LLP, a boutique law firm with a practice specializing in real estate, business and corporate transactions.

Judkins, Glatt & Hulme had a good 2011, including representation in the acquisition and disposition of more than $250 million of distressed real estate assets, negotiation of joint venture funding for an additional $200 million of distressed assets, and closing more than $100 million in multifamily loans from Freddie Mac.

Steven Lake is returning to Best Best & Krieger LLP, as of counsel in the schools and special education practice group. Lake initially worked for Best Best & Krieger as of counsel from 2006-2007.

After a successful year with the firm, The School District of Palm Beach County in Florida, the nation’s 11th largest school district, recruited Lake to head its disability legal team and lead its challenging compliance and staff training initiatives. He served Palm Beach County as senior counsel for disability law from 2007-2011.

His practice focuses on the representation of public agencies in compliance matters involving the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and California law.

This is no joke. San Diego Volunteer Lawyer Program Inc., an organization that helps provide free legal services to 6,000 clients every year, will hold its sixth annual SDVLP LAF-Off (Lawyers Are Funny) comedy competition March 22.

After five years of sold out performances, LAF-Off audiences have confirmed what most would not believe — the men and women of the legal profession, so serious by day, can have you rolling in the aisles at night. You will not be billed for attending. The fundraiser will be held at the House of Blues. The cocktail reception kicks off at 5 p.m., followed by the competition at 6 p.m. All money raised will go to support the pro-bono work of SDVLP.

Wendy Choi and Ken Jenkins, partners at Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP, have both been appointed to the State Intellectual Property Office of China (SIPO) — U.S. Bar Liaison Council.

Choi will be representing the IP Section of the Atlanta Bar Association and Jenkins will be representing The San Diego Intellectual Property Law Association.

Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP will open an office in Seoul, Korea, in the first quarter of 2012. The announcement follows the recent ratification of the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement by both countries and the resulting opening in 2012 of the Korea legal services market to U.S.-based law firms.

Randy C. Frisch is the president and publisher of the San Diego Business Journal. He is licensed to practice law in California, Nevada and Idaho. He can be reached at rfrisch@sdbj.com.

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