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San Diego's newest IP firm stresses personal service

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A new intellectual property law firm has opened in San Diego, but it doesn't have any office space or a centralized mailing address.

A joint venture between five local attorneys that launched this month, TechLaw LLP is among the new wave of "virtual" law firms whose partners work out of their homes.

With it, the participating attorneys benefit from the advantages of a limited liability partnership while running autonomous, individual practices without massive overhead costs.

"I remember sitting in my office and e-mailing someone two offices away," said Jane Babin, a partner with TechLaw recalling her days in a traditional law firm. "There were times I'd go for a week without seeing anybody. I'd be in my office doing my work, and I could just as easily have been working at home or someplace else.

"I don't think I'd ever go back to big firm again."

Babin, who has a background in molecular biology, worked as a patent attorney for Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker; Pillsbury, Winthrop, Shaw & Pittman and DLA Piper before venturing out on her own a year and a half ago.

When she decided it would be beneficial to have a support network where ideas could be exchanged, she helped form TechLaw.

Babin is joined by former Biotech Law Group attorneys Sam K. Tahmassebi and David W. Maher, along with attorneys Manuel de la Cerra and Dana Robinson.

"I liked the independence that it offers and the quality of life," Tahmassebi said. "I basically get to work with the same great clients and interesting subject matter that I used to work on when I worked at a big law firm. Here I'm quite independent and do my own thing."

With no headquarters and its requisite office staff, the firm operates on a lean and efficient budget.

The five partners work from their homes, renting a conference room whenever necessary for a client meeting. Babin said she'll hold face-to-face strategy sessions at her dining room table, which she's done before with no complaints.

The group will meet once a week or so to brainstorm and exchange information on legal trends but otherwise will communicate via telephone or e-mail.

"Clients will get a lot better, more personal attention from our attorneys because, at large law firms, associates are overwhelmed with work and can't devote the time necessary to give clients the service they need at a reasonable price," said Tahmassebi, who used to work for IP heavyweights Knobbe, Martens, Olson & Bear and Lyon & Lyon.

With TechLaw keeping its expenses down, the firm passes the savings onto its clients. The group also has more flexibility than traditional law firms.

"I've worked in firms where this is the way things will be done for all clients," Babin said, adding, "I can maintain flexibility in terms of what types of services we provide, how we provide them, and there's not as much red tape with my practice and other practices."

The firm will focus mainly on patent prosecution, with Robinson providing trademark experience. The firm can also handle litigation.

Maher is a biochemist, while de le Cerra is an electrical engineer.

Babin and Tahmassebi both acknowledged that the "virtual" law firm model works best for transactional attorneys who tend to work individually anyway.

"I don't see it working very well for litigation attorneys," Tahmassebi said, "because they need to do a lot of team work with litigation. But for patent prosecution attorneys, this is the model that works best.

"Patent prosecution at large firms ends up very expensive because the billing rates are very high. I think eventually clients realize it makes more economic sense to go with 'virtual' law firms."

TechLaw does not have any immediate plans to add associates or junior lawyers.

Babin said the firm's plan is simply "to expand our recognition in the community -- individually and as a group -- and be a very strong IP presence in San Diego and California in general.

"I think we can compete from a legal standpoint certainly," she added. "We have all the skills necessary to handle clients' patent prosecution work and, with support between partners, it will make it more comfortable (when) clients might be hesitant to hire solo practitioners."

TechLaw's arrangement gives the partners the ability to better organize their personal time.

Tahmassebi, a father of two, can take his kids to and from school as well as attend all their extracurricular activities.

"I work less hours than I did before," he said. "I have a lot less stress as result of that. I consider myself a well-rounded person, having interests outside of my professional interests, and working here allows me to pursue those interests."

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