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Renee Deger
The Recorder

It's bye-bye Palo Alto for Fenwick & West.

The technology firm is quitting its long-time Palo Alto Square offices Friday for brand new digs in downtown Mountain View.

The firm is shuttering its headquarters at 5 p.m. Friday and will reopen for business Dec. 26. At that point, Fenwick will officially become a Mountain View-based firm after 25 years in Palo Alto.

While it's a move of only five miles, the change in headquarters could have a greater impact psychologically as Fenwick becomes the first homegrown Silicon Valley firm to vacate Palo Alto entirely.

As real estate costs in tony Palo Alto began to skyrocket during the technology boom—space on Sand Hill Road topped out at $180 a square foot—law firms started eying other, less expensive options.

Among the local technology firms, however, only Fenwick chose to leave the Palo Alto/Menlo Park area. A handful of out-of-town firms, like Weil, Gotshal & Manges and Fish & Richardson, also chose to locate their Silicon Valley offices outside of Palo Alto.

Fenwick is moving about 170 lawyers and some 200 staff members from the corner of Page Mill Road and El Camino Real to the corner of Castro and California streets in Mountain View.

John McNelis, Fenwick co-managing partner, said the change in municipalities gave some partners pause two years ago when the firm inked its lease. But they soon got over it.

"People at this point feel that whether we're in Palo Alto or Silicon Valley, the reputation we have is fine," McNelis said.

To help make the case for the new location, firm managers at the time plotted out on a map the addresses of their clients and employees, discovering most were closer to Mountain View than Palo Alto.

"The feeling of a decade ago -- that you needed to be in Palo Alto -- I don't think that's a necessity anymore," McNelis said.

The prospect of becoming the first tenant in a newly constructed building was enticing as well. The firm is taking all six floors, or about 130,000 square feet, in the new building along with another 30,000 square feet in two adjacent buildings. The firm currently has 126,000 square feet in Palo Alto Square.

The new space also allowed firm planners to address complaints leveled over the years regarding inadequate conference rooms and common areas where lawyers and staff can mingle, said Julie O'Loughlin, director of operations and facilities at Fenwick.

For one thing, the firm devoted the first floor of the building to meeting space and put in a kitchen nearby. The firm's copy center and word processing departments are also on the floor. And litigators will have a space of their own in an adjacent building for document reviews and strategy meetings.

"We tried to think about when people are doing the big deals over a weekend," O'Loughlin said.

In a nod to associate gripes, Fenwick did away with corner offices for partners, instead designating the coveted space as multi-purpose rooms for meetings, visiting lawyers or summer associates, O'Loughlin said. Partner offices are still larger than those reserved for associates.

The firm also set aside more kitchen space on the various floors so people could mingle.

Rank-and-file partners said they aren't put off by the change in locale and are excited about the new building and its location along Mountain View's picturesque main street.

"It's beautiful new space," said partner Connie Ellerbach. "And just to be able to walk out the front door and have within a couple of blocks a variety of restaurants and the performing arts center is a very exciting prospect."

And as for leaving Palo Alto behind, Ellerbach said she didn't feel a single tug of regret.

"It's not scary at all as for address," she said. "We're a Silicon Valley firm and we're actually going to be closer to clients, and it's an easier commute for a larger portion of the staff."