Ron Shulman, Five More Patent Attorneys Jump Ship at Wilson Sonsini, Land at Latham & Watkins

4/7/11Follow @wroush

[Updated 4/7/11, 9:25 pm PT, with comment from Wilson Sonsini, see below] In a notable shakeup for the Silicon Valley legal world, six patent litigators from high-profile Valley law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati have defected to rival Latham & Watkins. The news, first published by the legal publication The Recorder on April 5, was confirmed by Latham in an announcement today.

The six former Wilson Sonsini partners are Roger Chin, Richard Frenkel, Julie Holloway, Terrence Kearney, Michael Ladra, and Ron Shulman. Frenkel, Kearney, Ladra, and Shulman have joined Latham’s Silicon Valley office in Menlo Park, CA, while Chin and Holloway went to the firm’s Montgomery Street offices in San Francisco.

Shulman and Ladra are the most senior attorneys in the group. Shulman, together with Chin, successfully defended Santa Clara, CA-based genetic testing equipment maker Affymetrix (NASDAQ: AFFX) last year in a much-watched patent infringement suit brought by San Diego-based Illumina (NASDAQ: ILMN). Ladra, with Holloway, is known in part for helping Milpitas, CA-based SanDisk (NASDAQ: SNDK) fend off a patent suit brought by Samsung over flash memory products. That case was settled in 2002 on favorable terms for SanDisk.

Though a move by half a dozen attorneys is a relatively small matter at such large firms—50-year-old Wilson Sonsini has hundreds of attorneys in nine locations in the U.S. and China, while Latham has 2,000 attorneys in 31 offices around the world—it’s a symbolic coup for Latham and a blow for Wilson Sonsini. The six attorneys “are very well recognized in our field and our industry as having a glittering practice, which will add a lot of luster to our existing practice,” says Jim Lynch, vice chair of Latham’s global litigation department.

Lynch says his firm didn’t view the hirings primarily as a way to bring in new business, but admits that the new attorneys are likely to add to Latham’s client roster. “I would expect them to bring with them the matters they have going now,” Lynch says. “That includes some active matters, and it includes relationships.”

According to Tuesday’s article in The Recorder, the departures at Wilson come after a period of rising concern among patent litigators there over the expansion of the firm’s client base. Wilson has one the country’s largest practices in the area of technology mergers, acquisitions, IPOs, and securities. That created conflicts of interest for Wilson’s intellectual property lawyers, who had to pass up many patent infringement cases because the firm had existing relationships with parties related to the disputes, according to the article. Former Wilson Sonsini patent litigator James Otteson left for this reason to start his own firm last year, The Recorder said, and attorneys James DiBoise and Michael Berta left for Arnold & Porter in February.

[Updated] Contacted for comment on the departures, Wilson Sonsini spokesperson Courtney Dorman said, “We wish them the best. We’re fortunate to have an incredibly strong team of IP litigators on both coasts and have added key partners in that area recently. We will certainly continue to aggressively grow and invest in the practice moving forward.”

Lynch said there is a burgeoning demand for high-end patent litigation help, and that the addition of the six former Wilson attorneys at Latham would help the firm “meet the demands of our clients.” He also said the hirings “complement our very active corporate and financial practices, because those clients also have IP needs and IP components to their transactions.”

Shulman said the group of emigrés from Wilson Sonsini was attracted by Latham’s size and resources—though he didn’t say how the team expects to avoid the same sorts of conflicts of interest that allegedly arose at Wilson. “We were particularly attracted by the global platform and deep IP litigation resources available at Latham & Watkins to support and grow our practices,” Shulman said in today’s announcement. “We have successfully worked together as a group for many years, and we all are confident that joining Latham will advance our practices and capabilities.”

Latham & Watkins is an Xconomy underwriter.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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