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Big Law Raids Colorado as Tech Venture Capital Grows Business

July 13, 2022, 9:30 AM

Tech and life sciences companies luring venture capital to the Denver area are seeing an unintended offshoot of their success—lawyers are coming to town for new business.

Washington-founded Crowell & Moring opened an outpost in Denver this year and Bay Area-headquartered Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati planted a flag in nearby Boulder, Colo. Arnold & Porter and WilmerHale doubled the size of their Denver offices to 36 and 35 lawyers, respectively, in the past five years.

Life sciences and tech entrepreneurs are in a “virtuous cycle” of growing companies that sometimes break off with new ideas to form startups, said Tony Jeffries, a Wilson Sonsini corporate partner. “We’re seeing what happened in Silicon Valley happen here,” he said.

Colorado companies last year won $6.8 billion in venture capital funding—more than twice the amount in 2020 and the seventh most in the US, according to a report by the state government and Access Venture Partners.

Biotechnology companies in Boulder that went public in 2020 and 2021 after receiving tens of millions of dollars in investments include muscular dystrophy treatment developer Edgewise Therapeutics Inc. and lung cancer test developer Biodesix Inc.

Palantir Technologies Inc., a data analytics software company, went public in 2020 after moving its headquarters from Palo Alto, Calif. to Denver.

“We’ve punched well above our weight for not being a coastal community,” said Michelle Hadwiger, director of global business development for the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade.

The coronavirus pandemic benefited the region because workers have more say in where they want to work—and many are choosing Colorado, she said.

Firm Growth

Denver County’s population has grown nearly 19% to 711,463 as of July 2021 from 600,158 in 2010, according to the US Census.

“As the city has grown, there’s been more of a case for some of the larger firms to bolster their presence in Denver,” said Liz Lindquist, an Arnold & Porter partner who joined the firm from King & Spalding last month.

About a fourth of the top 200 law firms in the US by revenue have offices in Colorado’s “Front Range,” which includes the southern Rocky Mountains in the central part of the state.

They include Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher; Hogan Lovells; Kutak Rock; Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner; Greenberg Traurig; Cooley; and Perkins Coie.

Arnold & Porter’s corporate practice in Denver has grown to a dozen attorneys from just one five years ago, said Ron Levine, co-chair of the firm’s corporate and finance group.

The firm worked on the $1.6 billion merger between Resolute Energy Corp., an oil and gas exploration company, and Cimarex Energy Co. in 2019. It also helped guide the majority stake sale of F&I Sentinel, an automotive industry financing compliance consultancy, to private equity firm Calera Capital.

Poaching

The Denver growth is creating “serious ripples” in the legal market with increased lateral poaching between law offices, said Brian Rashkow, a legal recruiter in the region with LHH Recruitment Solutions.

Homegrown firm Holland & Hart added 10 people from Perkins Coie to its Denver trademark law practice in February. Two months later, the firm announced it had hired tax controversy and litigation lawyer Jennifer Benda as a partner in its Denver office.

Holland & Hart has succeeded despite rising competition because it’s found its lane as a lower-priced but high-quality, full-service firm, said firm chair Chris Balch. He questions whether new entrants from New York, Washington, Chicago and Silicon Valley can capture rates they charge at home.

“Some firms have relaxed their rate structures, but most try to command their national rate,” Balch said.

Quality of Life

Denver’s natural beauty, sunshine and reasonable cost of living, along with a thriving food scene, has helped law firms attract talent.

“We get tremendous, tremendous candidates applying, and frankly, we’re taking them up on it,” said John Walsh, a litigation partner with the Denver office of WilmerHale.

Walsh said one example is Margarita Botero, a “superstar” cross-border internal and government investigations senior associate hired in 2020 from Cravath, Swaine & Moore in New York.

She moved to Denver with her husband, a doctor, in part because he had chosen to attend the University of Colorado Medical Center for a post-residency fellowship, he said.

Several recent hires to Crowell & Moring’s Denver office also mentioned the region’s attributes as important parts of the draw, said the firm’s Denver managing partner, Meshach Rhoades. They included white collar and regulatory enforcement counsel Jeff Severson, who previously split his time between the firm’s San Francisco and New York offices.

“There’s just a lot here to enjoy,” Rhoades said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sam Skolnik in Washington at sskolnik@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com; John Hughes at jhughes@bloombergindustry.com