New York firms falter out west

New York law firms are failing to make it in the Los Angeles market, says a report by by the National Law Journal in the US.

The survey found that of the 25 largest New York firms to set up offices on the west coast in the mid to late 1980s, a third have since closed.

Eleven others have significantly scaled down operations while one, Brown & Wood LLP, has retained office space in LA, but without employing any lawyers to staff it.

Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft, Debevoise & Plimpton and Rogers & Wells are among the most high-profile firms to have closed their LA offices, while Coudert Brothers' operation has been halved.

Stephen Joelson, a consultant with UK entertainment firm Clintons, who was a founding partner of LA-based practice Costello & Joelson, says: “A recession that lasted from 1990 to 1996 caused a substantial drop-off in corporate and real property deals and a very different legal and corporate culture were the major contributing factors.”

However, west coast firms looking to establish themselves in New York have been much more successful.

Paul Hastings Janofsky & Walker LLP, for example, has seen its New York office grow by 300 per cent in the last decade and now employs 100 lawyers in New York, with 14 new corporate and tax associates expected next month.

UK firms have largely steered clear of LA, with Denton Hall closing its practice nearly five years ago.

Wiggin and Co, the Cheltenam-based commercial and media practice, set up in LA in 1989 and is the only English firm still there today. Partner Mike Turner, who set up the practice, says it has been used as a shop window and has brought in a combination of media or transactional work that is technology-related.