03 Sep 2021

Willkie signals California commitment with Los Angeles launch

New office marks the latest instalment of the New York firm's 'strategic' West Coast expansion

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Willkie Farr & Gallagher has signed on a trio of partners from Venable to open a new office in Los Angeles, its third base on the West Coast. 

The New York-headquartered firm has hired Alan Epstein, Michele Mulrooney and Alex Weingarten to lead the charge in Los Angeles. The trio, who are joining the firm as partners, are expected to be joined by additional lawyers in the coming weeks. 

Thomas Cerabino, Willkie’s chairman, said that building out its presence on the West Coast has been a “strategic focus” for the top 50 US firm following its expansion activity in the Golden State over the last three years. 

It first opened its Palo Alto office with a pair of partners from Paul Hastings in 2018, and followed up shortly thereafter by launching its second Bay Area location in San Francisco in 2019 with two lawyers from Keker Van Nest & Peters. 

Willkie’s lawyer headcount in California now clocks in at more than 30 following the Los Angeles launch, according to the firm’s website. 

“Los Angeles is a diverse and vibrant business center and several of our existing clients are based in or near LA, or have significant operations there,” Cerabino explained. “Alan, Michele and Alex know the market, have key relationships, and are a great fit for our collaborative and entrepreneurial culture.” 

At Venable, Epstein chaired the firm’s entertainment and media group and the West Coast business transactions group. He represents a wide range of clients across the entertainment and media industry, including production companies, influencers, and technology companies, among others. His practice focuses on M&A, joint ventures, financing transactions and executive compensation, and complex tax planning. 

Mulrooney, meanwhile, handles real estate planning for high-net-worth individuals and their companies and nonprofits, while Weingarten is a commercial litigator who has represented clients across the areas of entertainment, probate, restructuring and business litigation. 

The latest launch follows last year’s expansion activity in the midwest when Willkie opened its doors in Chicago with a team of six Jenner & Block partners, including former chairman Craig Martin. 

Last month, Allen & Overy made another big push into the California legal market, adding a seven-partner White & Case team to launch in Silicon Valley and San Francisco, joining London rival Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in targeting the booming West Coast tech market. It initially set up shop in Los Angeles with a six-partner renewables team from Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in March. 

Freshfields launched its own Silicon Valley office in July last year with a team from Davis Polk, Sidley Austin, Latham & Watkins and Wilson Sonsini and later signed a 10-year office lease in Redwood City in February. 

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