The European law firm of Field Fisher Waterhouse opened its first U.S. office in Palo Alto September 3.
The London-based firm specializes in working with highly regulated IP and tech-focused companies and wanted to be closer to its Silicon Valley clients, said Phil Lee, a partner in the firm's privacy group who relocated from London last month to open the office.
The firm plans to focus on advising existing clients such as Facebook Inc., Google Inc. and Zynga Inc. on their privacy and other IP-related legal issues in Europe, Lee said, while also expanding its client base in the life sciences sector. Right now, Lee said, U.S. clients account for about a fourth of the firm's overall revenue, so it doesn't have to break into an entirely new market. Lee is the only lawyer from the 400-attorney firm permanently based in Palo Alto, but other partners will join him for temporary assignments.
"We've been waiting for the right time to open up here, and with growing client demand, we thought now was the right time," Lee said. "Locating here is partly a reflection of the expertise we have and the business we are trying to grow."
There isn't much competition from other European firms looking to support Silicon Valley clients across the pond. U.K.-based Osborne Clarke has had a Palo Alto office since 2000, which corporate partner Steve Wilson has headed for the last five years. He said most European firms typically set up their first U.S. office on the East Coast because it's closer.
Wilson said much of the work he does for U.S. clients is related to their privacy issues in Europe as well. And it's encouraging that another European firm has decided to set up shop in Palo Alto.
"It shows there's more and more interest in Europe from this side of the country," Wilson said.
But other British firms have been less successful over the years. Clifford Chance, for example, made a big push in California in 2002 after hiring a group of lawyers from now-defunct Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison. It opened offices in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego and Palo Alto.
But after two years of little growth, the firm closed all of them, except the Silicon Valley office. It was also shut down in early 2007.