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Limbach & Limbach is to dissolve because it is unable to find new premises.
The 17-partner West Coast intellectual property (IP) firm is in merger talks with both Morrison & Foerster and Thelen Reid & Priest. However, five partners have chosen not to remain with the merged firm and are leaving to form two new partnerships.
The San Francisco practice's problems began when the landlord of its current premises, the Ferry Building, announced that it intended to restore the historical site. It meant that Limbachs would have to move out for an 18-month period while the works were completed.
The firm therefore arranged interim offices for the summer with the intention of moving back to the Ferry Building to complete the lease term, which runs out in 2006.
At the last minute, though, the new premises fell through, leaving the firm with no option but to dissolve the partnership. It is due to vacate the Ferry Building in January 2001.
Senior partner Karl Limbach says that the continuing rise in San Francisco rents - which he claims have trebled over the last two years - meant they were unable to find another landlord who was prepared to provide a short-term lease.
Although the practice has been talking to a range of firms, it is understood that its preferred merger partner is Morrison & Foerster. The talks have been going on since the summer. Limbach says: "The biggest problem is finding a firm where we don't have any conflicts. But it looks like the last potential conflict with Morrison & Foerster is going to be resolved."
He adds that he is confident that any merger talks will be finalised before the January 2001 deadline.
The partners who are branching out on their own are Michael Stallman, Michael Pollock and Kathleen Frost. Two other partners, Philip Girard and Alfred Equitz, will also be establishing their own firm. It is not yet known what the new firms will be called.
Limbachs was established in 1968, and specialises in a range of IP work, including patent, trademark and copyright through to trade secrets and unfair competition.
A final decision about the future of non-partner level fee-earners and support staff will not be made until a merger is agreed. Limbach believes redundancies will be unlikely, particularly as the West Coast legal market is very buoyant. Limbach intends to join the merged firm in an of counsel role.