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Women from DLA Launch Big-Law Alternative – by Julia Love

SAN FRANCISCO — Three women, all partners at DLA Piper, have broken out of Big Law to found a firm of their own.

Litigators Luanne Sacks and Cynthia Ricketts and employment partner Hope Case struck out about two weeks ago to launch Sacks, Ricketts & Case. With offices in San Francisco, Palo Alto and Phoenix, the firm will focus on consumer and employment class actions, employment counseling and commercial litigation. The firm counts eight lawyers, seven of whom came straight from DLA Piper, and expects to add another partner in mid-July.

Collaborating across the San Francisco, Silicon Valley and Phoenix offices of DLA Piper on a series of matters this year, Sacks, Ricketts and Case realized that they had something in common, Sacks said.

“Starting a woman-owned firm has been a longtime dream of mine,” Sacks said. “As it turns, that was the case for all three of us.”

In March the women began to discuss the prospect of founding a firm, Sacks said. They strove to devise a law firm model that would help women stay in the profession, accommodate families and give clients flexible rates — three counts on which they feel Big Law sometimes falls short.

The women have come together at a time when some Am Law 100 firms are starting to question whether their billable-hour commitments are driving away talent, legal recruiter Avis Caravello said.

“They’re definitely responding to some of the major issues that are being faced in Big Law today,” she said. “I think it’s an absolute recipe for success.”

Sacks, Ricketts and Case are the firm’s three equity partners. The firm expects to add more equity partners over time but is committed to maintaining a majority of woman owners, Sacks said.

Sacks will manage the firm’s Bay Area offices and Ricketts will head up the Phoenix outpost, but the equity partners will need to agree on any major firm decisions, Sacks said. That level of consensus is unusual in Big Law, Ricketts noted.

“We’re just in more of a collaborative process,” said Ricketts, who was the only woman partner in DLA Piper’s Phoenix office. “There aren’t as many egos involved.”

Attorney compensation will also be determined collaboratively. Rather than creating a lockstep system, each lawyer will work with firm leadership to determine how much they want to make and how much they should work to meet that goal, Ricketts said. Attorneys will be at liberty to set their own hours. The aim is to empower each lawyer to be the “master of their own career,” Sacks said.

“Whether you’ve got to pick your kids up from school or want to work with a small client that you think is going to develop into a much larger client, we want to let people decide what’s best for their practices,” Sacks said. “We treat professionals as adults, which unfortunately I don’t think a lot of large law firms do these days.”

Their billings will also look different outside of the framework of Big Law. The firm’s rates range from $250 to $650. The partners are charging about 25 percent less than they did at DLA Piper, Sacks said.

“Setting up their own firm allows them to capture clients at a more competitive rate than at almost any Am Law firm,” legal recruiter Sabina Lippman said.

Companies including Sony, Monster Cable, Go Daddy and Il Fornaio have followed the team from DLA Piper to their new firm, Sacks said.

Richard Scudellari, co-managing partner of DLA Piper’s Silicon Valley office, said he was sorry to see the lawyers go.

“I think they really were looking to do something different than what we can do at a Big Law firm,” he said.

Reprinted with permission from the June 28, 2013 edition of THE RECORDER © 2013 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. For information, contact 877-257-3382 or reprints@alm.com. # 501-07-13-04