Boston And New England - Law Firms A National Platform Looks To Boston For Key Strengths

Tuesday, March 1, 2005 - 01:00

Editor: Would each of you say something to our readers about your professional experience?

DiCara: I served for ten years as a member of the Boston City Council. My law practice deals with complex real estate transactions. I have been in practice for about 25 years, first on my own and then with Peabody & Brown.

Karis: I grew up in the greater Boston area. I have been in practice since 1983, first with Hutchins, Wheeler & Dittmar and then, for the past couple of years after our two firms merged, with Nixon Peabody. I am engaged in venture capital work, mergers and acquisitions and the representation of numerous technology companies.I am also the chair of the firm's Business Practice Group.

Durant: I divide my practice between commercial litigation and healthcare matters, primarily HIPAA and regulatory compliance. I founded Nixon Peabody's HIPAA task force in 2001 and continue to advise a variety of healthcare organizations about HIPAA compliance and litigation risk management.

Editor: Would you tell us something about the evolution of your practice?

DiCara: The real estate development practice has done well in Boston, especially the residential market. The demand for high-end residential units in this city continues to increase, and that has resulted in considerable business. In addition, our group handles the real estate work for a number of the firm's major corporate clients, and this extends beyond Boston. Having 15 offices around the country enables us to provide real estate development services on a national level.

Karis: The firm's business practice, from a local standpoint, tracks the Boston economy and that of the New England region. We see continued growth in private equity financing and venture capital for technology-based companies. During the past year we saw a considerable volume of mergers and acquisitions activity for privately held companies in the Boston area. There is also new start-up growth. Much of this derives from the educational institutions in the area, which constitute a vibrant source of new ideas for business activity. The strong venture capital community in the region continues to fuel that growth. We are also fortunate to see many old line Boston business concerns continue to prosper and, indeed, expand their activities across the region and, in some cases, the country.

Editor: The firm has a long-standing identification with Boston. Can you tell us something about the firm's history in this regard?

DiCara: The firms that came together to form the present-day Nixon Peabody go back more than 150 years. Mr. Peabody passed away in 1940 and had been a pillar of the Boston community over the course of his career. I recall that his partner, Mr. Storey, had been a member of the Harvard Board of Overseers and of the Boston Finance Commission. That tradition of public service continues to this day, and the attorneys and staff who have joined Nixon Peabody over the years have an equally distinguished history of civic and community service.

Editor: How does the Boston office fit into the firm-wide structure? What are the particular strengths that the Boston office brings to the enterprise?

DiCara: There are a number of strengths. With nearly 180 lawyers, we are the largest office in the firm. Particular strengths are in affordable housing and syndication. We also have a large and very reputable trust practice. Our corporate practice is unusual in that we represent a great many old line enterprises which have been household names in Boston for generations and, at the same time, new entrepreneurial concerns that are on the cutting edge of emerging industries. Litigation is also a real strength of the office.

Karis: From a local perspective, a significant amount of the work we are doing in Boston on the corporate side stems from the upturn in the New England economy - and we have built a strong team of attorneys specializing in private equity financing, venture capital for technology-based companies, mergers and acquisitions, and start-up growth. This expertise translates on a national level as well. In 2004, for example, we were involved in the first IPO of a Seattle-based software technology company in nearly four years, and we were also involved in one of the year's largest private equity financings in the pharmaceutical industry. The team that we have built to support these and other clients represents fund sponsors, institutional investors, and high-net-worth individuals, as well as funds in connection with portfolio investments both in the buyout and venture capital areas. We also work in conjunction with several other groups at Nixon Peabody to offer clients the full range of legal services required, including Tax, Intellectual Property, Labor & Employment, and ERISA - all depending on the unique situation. This kind of teamwork has come to be a defining differentiator for the firm, and is very rewarding to see.

Durant: In terms of the Boston office's fit into the national firm structure, it is important to remember that all of our offices integrate resources. Our practice groups operate at a national level, not as office-based practices. This aspect of our operations makes us competitive both with respect to the services we offer and the fees we charge for those services.

Editor: How has the firm grown in recent years? New offices? New practice areas? Has the firm developed a single firm-wide culture, or has growth hampered this goal?

DiCara: Over the last several years, the firm has continued to grow. We acquired an IP firm in Northern Virginia which is now part of our Washington, DC operation. We brought on approximately 75 lawyers in San Francisco and Orange County, CA, and we just opened a new office in Los Angeles. And, across the firm, we continue to bring on lateral partners and skilled associates to meet the growing needs of our clients.

With respect to firm culture, we are organized by practice groups, not by office. I spend as much or more time working conjunctively with my real estate colleagues in Washington or San Francisco as I do with my colleagues here in New England. Technology and our commitment to client service make this arrangement possible, and we remain dedicated to following this model as we continue to grow.

Karis: We have successfully integrated the various offices to establish a single firm culture. We do not wish to be looked at aslawyers leading separate professional lives in 15 different offices. Our goal in this connection is to continue to evolve a firm culture on a nationwide platform that combines collegiality with a commitment to the highest quality of service to our clients.

Editor: Please tell us about Boston as a place to live and work.

DiCara: Boston is a wonderful place to live and work. There is an extraordinary amount of intellectual capital here, and the education and healthcare industries that are at the heart of our economy provide a drive and energy to the place that is found in few other cities. Then, too, this is a very youthful city.

Durant: I came to Boston from the Midwest to attend law school, and, like so many who have been through that experience, decided to stay. Boston offers everything that a bigger city like New York offers, but on a smaller scale. That, I think, is part of its charm.

Editor: How do you attempt to sell the city to, say, recent law graduates?

Karis: We sell Boston as a complete package. Some of the finest law firms in the country are here, and it is possible to practice at the very peak of the profession. It is also a beautiful city and possesses fantastic cultural amenities. Certainly there are other cities that boast wonderful museums, theatre arts, a musical community, and so on, and that possess a storied past. And there are other cities that are wonderful places to raise a family. Boston, however, is all of these things.

Durant: One of the selling points that is most helpful to our recruiting efforts has to do with our pro bono work. I serve as the Boston office's pro bono coordinator, and I oversee all of the projects that we undertake in this area. They are extremely varied, and we have found that they constitute an important factor that law graduates and young lateral hires consider when looking to join a firm.

Editor: Can you tell us about some of these pro bono initiatives?

Durant: In recent years we have been engaged in just about every area of public interest law. We represent the victims of domestic violence, handle landlord-tenant disputes for low-income tenants, assist a variety of non-profit organizations, draw up guardianships and draft estate plans and wills for low-income elderly people, represent the indigent in criminal proceedings, and so on.

Editor: Would you tell us something about the role that the Boston office plays in the life of the city?

DiCara: We are very active in the Boston Bar Association and the Boston Bar Foundation. Leigh-Ann is a member of the Association's Council, and I serve on the Association's Legislative Committee. The firm has a long history of involvement with the Association and, in addition, many of our lawyers serve on the governing boards of theatre companies, museums, colleges and universities and charities, to say nothing of serving as soccer coaches.

Durant: These activities are a part of our firm culture, and all of our people are encouraged to participate. Some of these undertakings are very interesting. For example, we recently became involved in the Citizens' School Legal Apprenticeship Program, which brings school children to the firm for an education session on the law and trial advocacy. The program culminates in a mock trial held at Federal Court at which the children act as advocates.

Editor: Why is this kind of activity important to the firm?

Durant: These undertakings reflect the firm's culture and value system. We recognize that this work does not bring revenue into the firm, but we also recognize that it has a direct impact on the face that the firm presents to the Boston community and on the personal development of our attorneys. For these reasons, these efforts are critical to us, and we tend to attract lawyers to our ranks who have similar values and who wish to participate in this culture.

Editor: Where would you like the Boston office to be in, say, five years?

Karis: Our overall goal as a firm is to increase our nationwide platform by growing all of our major metropolitan offices. For Boston, that means a number of things: internal growth, with young associates being brought up through the ranks to become partners; growth from lateral hires, with seasoned attorneys from other firms deciding to join us and our national platform; and, finally, the acquisition of larger groups, and even perhaps other firms, as we seek to enhance our expertise both in specialized areas and across the board. The Boston office is a key factor in Nixon Peabody's growth strategy.

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