Attorneys Ride the High-Tech Wave

Law firms are taking advantage of new opportunities created by the area's high-tech growth

The surging local information technology market, which has seen record initial public offerings, countless high-tech start-ups and the deregulation of the telecom industry, is opening lucrative doors for many law firms.


This flurry of activity has caused law firms such as Shaw Pittman Potts & Trowbridge to transfer attorneys to offices in Virginia, said Steve Meltzer, chairman of the firm's Corporate and Securities Group in McLean, Va.

Other Washington area law firms have beefed up their technology groups as national firms scurry to establish a presence to grab a piece of the region's growing high-tech legal business.

Shaw Pittman, a 42-year-old law firm based in Washington, opened an office in McLean to target the high-tech community in northern Virginia and suburban Maryland in May 1984. There are now 17 attorneys, nine of whom have been added in the past two months. The 250-attorney firm now has 70 lawyers serving its high-tech clients -- a 40 percent increase from the 50 attorneys that handled this area in 1994.

According to Meltzer, the firm's technology practice faces keen competition from firms targeting high-tech clientele. Hogan & Hartson and McGuire Woods, both in McLean, are targeting companies that specialize in software, the Internet and systems integration, he said.

"If it looks like a good business, pretty soon you're going to have lots of people who claim to be an expert in it," said Meltzer.

The Computer Law Association in Fairfax, Va., which has grown from 1,200 attorneys in 1992 to 1,900 attorneys in 1996, has seen its worldwide membership swell more in the past four years than anytime in its 25-year history. Its attorneys specialize in hardware, software and telecommunications.

Barbara Fieser, executive director of the association, said the Washington area boasts the second highest number of the association's members. Approximately 116 members are from the District of Columbia, 79 from Virginia and 29 from Maryland. She said 300 members are in California.

Harry Glazer, a partner with Washington-based Ginsberg Feldman and Bress, said his firm opened an office in McLean in December 1994 to target the high-tech community.

"Clients don't want to come downtown," said Glazer, who also is co-chairman of the emerging business committee for the Northern Virginia Technology Council.

"Law firms are really courting this business. Five or 10 years ago, their focus was on real estate."

The current trend in technology law is to go beyond offering legal counsel, he said, and provide strategic business guidance, similar to how accounting practices have evolved. His firm opened a subsidiary in McLean in July to advise companies on how to get their products into the marketplace, how to put together a board of directors and how to raise capital. "The idea is to add value. Legal services are a commodity, but give them something new and different and ... business will grow," said Glazer.

Many of the region's high-tech practices are focused on the telecom industry, officials say. The telecommunications reform bill passed by the U.S. Congress in February and the Federal Communication Commission's radio spectrum auctions have generated additional work for local attorneys, officials say.

Fenwick and West, based in California's Silicon Valley, opened a Washington office in 1986 to target the telecom market. J.T. Westermeier, a partner with the firm, said the increase in high-tech start-ups also attracted the firm to the area.

He noted that it is vital for start-up companies to get off on the right foot with respect to intellectual property protection rights. Such companies also must develop the proper agreements to bring their products to domestic and international markets, said Westermeier.

"It makes sense for law firms to develop expertise and recognition in those areas," he said.

A Sample of High-Tech Law Firms in the Netplex

Arent Fox Kintner Plotkin & KahnWashington, D.C.

Dickstein Shapiro & MorinWashington, D.C.

Fenwick & WestWashington, D.C.

Ginsburg Feldman and Bress CharteredWashington, D.C., McLean, Va.

Hazel & Thomas PCAlexandria, Va., Falls Church, Va., Leesburg, Va.

Hogan & Hartson LLPWashington, D.C., McLean, Va., Baltimore, Md., Bethesda, Md.

Manatt Phelps & PhillipsWashington, D.C.

Mays & Valentine LLPAlexandria, Va., McLean, Va.

McGuire, Woods, Battle & BootheMcLean, Va., Alexandria, Va., Baltimore, Md., Washington, D.C.

Proskauer Rose Goetz & MendelsohnWashington, D.C.

Shaw Pittman Potts & TrowbridgeWashington, D.C., McLean, Va., Leesburg, Va.

Ungaretti Harris Slavin & OshinskyWashington, D.C.

Venable, Baetjer, Howard & CivilettiWashington, D.C., McLean, Va., Baltimore, Md., Rockville, Md., Towson, Md.

Winston & StrawnWashington, D.C.

If your firm was left off of this list, please send an e-mail to tania@technews.com.


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