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Law Firm Website Design Companies : The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly


On a cold January day, in a tower high above Chicago's downtown Loop, nearly two dozen partners on a national law firm's executive committee gathered to talk about opening a new office.

The attorneys had spent months studying the new city, clients there and firms that served them, managing partner Thomas Fitzgerald recalled.

Finally, it was official: Winston & Strawn, the Chicago powerhouse with 11 offices and more than 900 attorneys worldwide, was headed to Charlotte.

The executive committee announced the decision a few days before the 19-lawyer office opened Jan. 14 in the Bank of America Corporate Center uptown, saying the move would better serve the firm's clients, particularly Charlotte's big banks, Fitzgerald said.

The scenario is playing out more often than ever, with a string of national firms expanding into Charlotte for its banks and businesses and the promise of closer, better relationships with them.

The surge means Charlotte has the power to attract top legal minds. But it also has a downside: Some worry that the influx is smothering local firms and raising questions about how long the city's big corporate clients, faced with a slowing economy, can feed the rush.

Local firms are responding to the changing legal landscape by boosting big salaries even higher, and the city's legal community is abuzz with talk of possible mergers.

In the last year or so, at least five national firms have opened offices in Charlotte.

Now, 15 of the nation's 100 largest law firms, by number of employees, have offices here, compared with three in 1990.

"I'm not aware of any other city that is currently experiencing this much attention," said James Bryant, managing partner at New York firm Dewey & LeBoeuf's Charlotte office, which opened last year. "Charlotte, as a financial center, is gaining respect."

Charlotte has been on the national radar since the mid-1980s, when Winston-Salem's Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice and Petree Stockton, which would become Kilpatrick Stockton, opened here.

As Bank of America and Wachovia helped turn the city into the country's second-largest financial center, and businesses such as Duke Energy leaped onto the national scene, others followed.

A Wachovia spokeswoman declined to comment for this story, and Bank of America officials did not return phone calls.

The latest law firms to enter the market are national players with top-notch attorneys who advise clients on areas such as corporate finance and real estate.

While the attention has helped Charlotte recruit top associates, the national firms are also putting pressure on local law firms, luring away their business and employees.

In some cases, national firms have merged with local or regional firms -- which can help the larger firms establish a local presence and the smaller firms stay afloat.

The latest rumors of a merger involve Charlotte firm Helms Mulliss Wicker and Richmond, Va., firm McGuireWoods, which came to Charlotte in 1998. Neither firm immediately returned calls late Tuesday.

"I think, in five years, there probably won't be more than one or two significant local firms left," said Tom Cottingham, managing partner of Richmond firm Hunton & Williams' Charlotte office. "The best work and the best lawyers are moving to the national firms."


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