Morrison & Foerster LLP - Company Profile, Information, Business Description, History, Background Information on Morrison & Foerster LLP

425 Market Street
San Francisco

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History of Morrison & Foerster LLP

Based in San Francisco, Morrison & Foerster LLP, is the largest law firm in California and the 16th largest in the United States. It maintains 12 offices in the United States, including Los Angeles, New York, Palo Alto, and Washington, D.C., as well as international offices in Beijing, Brussels, Hong Kong, London, Shanghai, Singapore, and Tokyo. All told, the firm employs more than 1,000 attorneys. Morrison & Foerster's intellectual property practice is especially strong. With 300 attorneys it is one of the largest in the world, providing a complete range of services involving patent, trademark, and copyright matters. Another strong suit is the firm's corporate practice, which employs attorneys involved in areas such as mergers and acquisitions, and securities offerings, catering to companies at all stages of their development, from start-ups to well-established multinational companies. Clients include notable corporations such as Apple, Hershey Foods Corporation, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Nextel Communications, Oracle Corporation, Thomson, Toshiba Corporation, VISA U.S.A. Inc., and Yahoo! Inc. Morrison & Foerster is known as a progressive, socially conscious firm and is involved in a great deal of pro bono work, including high-profile death penalty cases. It is also one of the top-ranked law firms in terms of the ethnic diversity of its workforce. Moreover, it has been named to numerous lists as one of the best places to work.

Heritage Dating to 19th Century

Although Morrison & Foerster did not begin its rise to prominence until the late 1960s, its origins date to the 19th century. The man behind the Morrison name was Alexander Francis Morrison. Born in Wymouth, Massachusetts, in 1856, Morrison was raised in San Francisco from the age of eight. He graduated from the University of California in 1878, and then earned a law degree from Hastings College of the Law in 1881. Morrison began his law career in San Francisco in 1881, joining the firm of Cope & Boyd. Two years later he and a colleague, Thomas V. O'Brien, struck out on their own, establishing the firm of O'Brien & Morrison. The man who supplied the second half of the Morrison & Foerster name, Constantine E.A. Foerster, joined the firm in 1890. In 1892 he and Morrison dissolved what was then known as O'Brien, Morrison & Daingerfield and opened a new law firm, Morrison & Foerster, a name that would become Morrison, Foerster & Cope in 1897 when Walter B. Cope became a partner. A year later Foerster died and his name was dropped. It would return decades later after his son, Roland C. Foerster, joined the firm.

In 1921 Morrison undertook a goodwill trip to Asia at the behest of the Chamber of Commerce, contracted pneumonia, and died in Singapore. Although the firm was subsequently dissolved and reorganized, Morrison's name was retained. He also was remembered in the community through the philanthropic work performed by his widow, May Treat Morrison, an accomplished painter and teacher in her own right. Through the bequests she made, helped in part by her husband's former law firm, Morrison's name would be associated with libraries, a visiting lecture series, scholarships, and a planetarium.

Permanent Name Change in 1975

The firm became known as Morrison, Foerster, Holloway, Clinton & Clark in 1961, and then in 1975 permanently adopted the Morrison & Foerster name. At this point the firm began to expand beyond the Bay Area and to grow into one of the country's leading law firms. The first major step was the opening of its first office (aside from an office to serve a client in San Diego in the early 1950s), established in Los Angeles in November 1974 to service a major client, Crocker National Bank. According to Amy Singer, writing for the American Lawyer in a 1990 article, "Associate James DeMeules nailed up a plaque with the firm's name ... to the door of an office inside the Crocker Bank building." Crocker recently had acquired the statewide branch network of another bank and asked that its law firm provide lawyers in southern California. After working out of the bank for three months, DeMeules set up shop across the street with enough space for a dozen lawyers. Although the office landed work from a handful of other clients, it was clearly there to service Crocker and had little aspirations beyond that.

Maintaining a second office proved problematic for Morrison & Foerster. According to the American Lawyer, "The early years were marked by frustrations and petty squabbles. Recruiting was difficult, and the L.A. lawyers generally lacked credibility with San Francisco." Moreover, Morrison & Foerster was not well known in Los Angeles, and recruits were not convinced that the firm had a true commitment to southern California. The Los Angeles office, as a result, had difficulties building a core group of competent and dedicated attorneys, hindered in part by a feeling of being second class members of the firm. "The office's lack of independence was obvious," wrote Singer. "Until 1980 all recruits--associates as well as partners--had to fly to San Francisco for interviews, and snippy comments and jokes indicated to L.A. lawyers how some of their northern cohorts felt. ... It didn't help that for several years the firm's L.A. associates were paid below the going rates in the city, because Morrison didn't offer associates year-end bonuses and profit sharing, as many top L.A. firms did." When salaries were adjusted in Los Angeles, however, the upper range of associate salaries approached that of junior partner rates in San Francisco, which became another source of friction between the two cities.

As Morrison & Foerster worked to improve relations in Los Angeles, it opened more offices. In 1979 the firm added operations in Denver and Washington, D.C. A year later, Morrison & Foerster went international, opening a London office. Also in 1980 the firm added a Saudi Arabia office through acquisition, but it proved to be a misstep. The head of the practice wanted to use the resources of the home office to expand significantly, but San Francisco was more interested in keeping the office small, with its function to generate business for the U.S. offices. After two years the office closed. Next, Morrison & Foerster opened an office in Hong Kong in 1983.

A 1983 Price Waterhouse report revealed that Morrison & Foerster's net income per partner had slipped well below the median of rival San Francisco law firms. According to the National Law Journal, "In 1984, the century-old firm was rocking. Plagued with an in-house debate over profitability, there were a number of disturbing defections that undercut morale. And there were some grumblings from partners in the Los Angeles office that they weren't adequately represented in the firm's governing body." The firm's chairman, Marshall L. Small, turned over the reins to a younger partner, Carl A. Leonard, who streamlined the policy committee, bringing in new members. Leonard also made it a priority to integrate the Los Angeles office, adding a Los Angeles partner to the firm's seven-member points committee that voted on partner compensation as well as the nonlawyer partnership review committee. Moreover, Morrison & Foerster began dispatching some of its San Francisco attorneys to Los Angeles to beef up some of the practice groups. Leonard also tackled the issue of diversity. In 1978 the firm named its first woman partner, but it was still lacking in terms of ethnic representation. That would begin to change in the 1980s under Leonard's watch and ultimately become a strong suit.

In the second half of the 1980s Morrison & Foerster continued to grow at a rapid clip. It moved into the outlying Bay Area, opening successful offices in Walnut Creek in 1984 and Palo Alto in 1985. Another office, established in Woodland Hills, home to a number of San Fernando Valley high-technology companies, lasted less than two years, however. In 1987 Morrison & Foerster established a beachhead in New York City by acquiring the 22-attorney firm of Parker Auspitz Neesemann & Delhanty. In that same year, Morrison & Foerster took advantage of a change in Japanese law allowing American lawyers to practice there and became one of the first U.S. firms to open an office Tokyo. It primarily served inbound investors and the interests of Crocker National Bank in Hong Kong.

Morrison & Foerster continued to expand in the early 1990s, opening offices in Sacramento and Brussels in 1991, the former city important because it was the capital of California and the latter important because it would function as a capital for a united Europe. But by now a number of California firms had begun to recognize that with the California economy faltering it was a time for retrenchment. While Morrison & Foerster was hanging its shingle in new locales, the firm was, in the words of the Recorder, "... scaling back expansion plans, reconfiguring compensation schemes and raising partnership standards. Others had to lay off associates." Morrison & Foerster benefited from a major sex discrimination case it was handling for State Farm Insurance Cos., which generated fees of $61 million for the firm in 1990 and 1991. After State Farm settled in early 1992 there was no work to take its place. Moreover, Japan, which had been supplying an abundance of work, also was struggling. It proved to be a difficult year as revenues fell by 8 percent to $200 million and profits dipped 30 percent to $235,000 per partner, "near the bottom of the nation's biggest firms," according to the Recorder.

Renewed Expansion: 1995 and Beyond

To weather the recession, Morrison & Foerster was forced to institute some cost-saving measures, but as the economy picked up in the mid-1990s prosperity returned and the firm was able to resume its expansion strategy, albeit without Leonard, who quit the firm in 1994 to work as a consultant. Morrison & Foerster opened an office in Singapore in 1997, followed by a branch in Beijing in 1998 to further flesh out its Asia practice. It became one of just a handful of U.S. law firms licensed to practice in the People's Republic of China. In the United States the firm also opened an office in San Diego in 1999 to serve the biotech, Internet, telecommunications, and other high-tech industries in the area. During the second half of the 1990s, the firm enjoyed a great deal of success in its corporate practice, involved in a number of initial public offerings in the high-technology sector, in particular new media concerns in both California's Silicon Valley and Silicon Alley of New York City's Lower Manhattan.

With the collapse of the high-tech sector in the early 2000s, Morrison & Foerster had to look for new business from new sources. It also continued to open new offices. The firm established a new office in northern Virginia, located in McLean, to serve clients in the technology, life sciences, and financial services industries in the key Washington, D.C. market. Practices included Intellectual Property, Government Contracts, Litigation, Labor, and Corporate Finance. In 2001, Morrison & Foerster opened an office in Century City to supplement the Los Angeles branch and focus on the needs of the worldwide entertainment industry. Also in 2001, Morrison & Foerster strengthened its toehold in Latin America by forging an alliance with the 22-lawyer Buenos Aires, Argentina-based firm of Alvarez Prado, Cabanellas & Kelly.

After nearly 100 years of operating as a San Francisco law firm, Morrison & Foerster, in little more than a generation, transformed itself into a worldwide player. In keeping with this new role, the firm's chairman, Keith Wetmore, relocated to the New York office in 2006. Not only did the move reflect the firm's commitment to the increasingly important New York office, which now included 150 attorneys, but as the financial capital of the world New York was the logical place from which to monitor Morrison & Foerster's global responsibilities and aspirations.

Principal Competitors

Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe L.L.P.; Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP; Reed Smith LLP.


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