- The Washington Times - Monday, March 5, 2001

A San Francisco law firm looking to cash in on Montgomery County's biotechnology boom has opened an office in Gaithersburg, and officials say more lawyers could follow.
Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe LLP opened a small, temporary office on Perry Parkway Feb. 20, but is seeking permanent digs that offer between 15,000 and 20,000 square feet of space, according to its real estate broker.
Chairman Barry S. Levin says his firm, which specializes in scientific law, wants to be in Montgomery's "DNA Alley" biotech business corridor, a 25-mile stretch between Bethesda and Clarksburg.
"We have a keen understanding of the unique … intellectual property issues facing life sciences companies," Mr. Levin says.
The firm, which also has an office in the District, is planning to add 25 attorneys and patent specialists to its Montgomery County operation over the next year, he says.
Montgomery County, home to the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration, has become a haven for companies that specialize in health-related products and research, including Celera Genomics Group, the Rockville firm that recently mapped the human genetic code.
Several other law firms that specialize in serving clients like Celera are interested in opening offices in Montgomery, according to Amy Finan, director of technology programs for the county's Department of Economic Development.
Ms. Finan will not name the firms, but says they are national practices like Heller Ehrman.
Law firms drive the D.C. area's office real estate market because they tend to consume more space than other businesses, brokers say.
Lawyers who came to Northern Virginia in the late 1990s to do business with its information technology companies helped give the region some of the lowest office vacancy rates in the nation.
It is not clear how many firms could follow Heller Ehrman's lead into Montgomery County, according to Richard I. Lane, a partner at West, Lane & Schalger, the D.C. brokerage that represents the firm.
"It depends on the success of the biotech sector," he says.
Maryland has the third-largest cluster of biotech companies in the nation, behind Silicon Valley and Boston, according to Anirban Basu, the senior economist for RESI, Towson University's research arm.
There are 250 private biotech companies that employ 16,000 people in the state. In Northern Virginia, 5,700 private information technology firms employ 237,000 workers, Mr. Basu says.
"Biotech has reached a stage in its evolution where it is generating revenue and attracting capital," he says, adding that many investors consider biotech a more stable sector than information technology.
Capers W. McDonald, the president and chief executive of BioReliance Corp., a Rockville company that tests products for disease-causing agents, says businesses like his benefit when there are lawyers and accountants nearby.
"It's beneficial when any service firm is close to its clients, especially when the clients are busy growing their business," he says.
BioReliance primarily uses out-of-town lawyers, Mr. McDonald says.
Heller Ehrman's arrival in Montgomery comes at a time when business leaders are mourning the decision by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to expand in Loudoun County.
The Chevy Chase-based research giant said in February it will build a $500 million complex in Loudoun that will employ 300 scientists and administrative workers. It says it will keep its headquarters in Chevy Chase, though.
"The county should have been able to keep a marquee customer like that," says John J. Dillon Jr., a Bethesda financial adviser and the chairman of the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce.


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