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North County law firms cater to the area's industries, demographics

North County law firms shadow the region's burgeoning biotechnology, life sciences and telecommunications industries. The attorneys in these firms know the ins and outs of the FDA approval process, initial public offerings and patent protection.

In addition, with companies expanding and opening office in North County, labor and employment as well as real estate practices are prominent.

Catering to high-tech industries

Given the proximity to Scripps Research Institute, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and University of California, San Diego, North County law firms are next door to the latest research and development.

Brobeck Phleger & Harrison calls itself "San Diego's leading technology law firm." Its clients include pharmaceutical, wireless and a few dot-com companies along with the venture capitalists, private investors and investment banks that finance them.

The attorneys at Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton practice corporate and securities, high technology, intellectual property, litigation, tax and estate planning and real estate.

Sheppard Mullin, Brobeck, Luce Forward Hamilton & Scripps, Pillsbury & Winthrop and Morrison & Foerster have similar areas of practice and are within five minutes of each other off El Camino Real in Carmel Valley.

Also on El Camino Real but in the Sorrento Hills subdivision is Foley & Lardner, another firm with technology industry clients.

Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe in La Jolla, which opened in 1998, is headquartered in San Francisco. Managing shareholder of the La Jolla office David Geerdes said the firm realized San Diego had a growing base of life science clients.

"That caused them to evaluate whether they should open the office here and they did," he said. "We're basically looking at growing with the (local) economy and the directions it takes. Biotech is one of the significant growth areas and continues to attract venture capitals."

Geerdes likened the biotech industry to the golf industry in Carlsbad, which started out with only Callaway Golf Co. (NYSE: ELY). Now, the region includes some of the industry's top golf equipment manufacturers including TaylorMade, King Cobra and Titleist.

"Everybody decided Carlsbad was the golf manufacturing capital of the world," Geerdes said.

North County has the third largest concentration of biotechnology companies in the United States behind San Francisco and Boston. The specialized labor pool entices companies to relocate or start up in the region. In turn, it produces lawyers who become experts in the biotech and high-tech fields.

Heller Ehrman's patent group also continues to grow, he said. The firm represents Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM) and other companies in the technology arena.

"The trend with patents is a realization over the last couple of decades that intellectual property can be a key asset of a corporation," Geerdes said.

Meeting estate planning, real estate needs

Also in North County, Kevin Day, owner of Day and Associates in Del Mar, practices international estate planning law. The three attorneys at his firm work on international tax planning, asset protection and business and estate planning.

"North County does have a good share of high net-worth individuals," Day said.

"People originally came to us for lawsuit protection when quartering off assets so they would still own at least a major part of their estate. Then because they're a larger client we can talk to them about tax advantage structure."

In Poway, Lorber Greenfield Beddoe Polito and Pengilly work primarily in construction defect litigation for insurance companies.

Most of their clients are based on the East Coast and correspond through e-mail and videoconferencing, said Julie Young, a legal administer. All of the senior partners live near the office and convenience was a big factor in relocating from Rancho Bernardo to Poway.

"It seems to me, there have been a number of firms that migrated in the area," Young said.

Office space rent is less expensive and more available than downtown San Diego, she said. And if they aren't seeing clients regularly, they don't have to be present in San Diego Superior Court downtown. Another incentive is avoiding traffic.

"More people are finding it easier and conducive to their lifestyle to work where they live," she said.

For more about the legal community in North County, read tomorrow's edition of North County Economic Development Feature Week. A look at the workspace of a North County law firm will be included.

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