Following a wave of departures, Heller Ehrman is rebuilding its venture capital practice with the hire of two partners from Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.

The firm has raided Wilson Sonsini for San Francisco-based partners Karen Dempsey and Nora Gibson. Dempsey focuses on venture capital financings and public offerings, particularly in the life sciences sector, while Gibson is a capital markets specialist. It is understood that Heller’s New York and San Francisco offerings were a key attraction for Gibson, who chiefly advises underwriters.

The hires follow a raft of defections from Heller’s Silicon Valley-based Venture Law Group (VLG). Earlier this year, nine partners quit the firm to join Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe, although one, tax partner Mark Windfeld-Hansen, returned after less than a month with Orrick.

Heller partner and executive committee member George Greer insisted that, despite the departures, the firm retained its premier position in emerging markets. “This is an area where we believe we have tremendous strength and are one of the market leaders. We lost some fine lawyers, but the heart of the Venture Law Group practice remained at Heller,” said Greer.

The hires bring to 15 the number of partners in Heller’s bay area emerging markets practice.

Wilson Sonsini, meanwhile, posted a poor set of financial results for 2004, with revenue dipping 1.3 per cent and profit per equity partner slumping 2.5 per cent to $866,000 (£464,000).