How did one lawyer at Goodwin Procter manage to attract so many lawyers from the unravelled, hotshot tech-law firm Testa Hurwitz + Thibeault?

Silicon Valley and Manhattan law firms descended on Boston in December, throwing money at the hotshot talent fleeing the country’s premier high-technology law firm, Testa, Hurwitz & Thibeault, as it was unraveling.

Goodwin Procter, whose top partners earn over $1 million a year, could offer them money too. But the Boston firm had something more: Regina M. Pisa.

Pisa, Goodwin’s managing partner, courted Testa partners individually, often in late-night meetings. The only break she took was to cook a Christmas dinner for 30 members of her extended Italian family. She looked the Testa partners in the eye and convinced them they were critical to her vision: Their high-tech expertise, combined with Goodwin Procter’s strength in advising emerging companies, would create a formidable player.

This “synergy” convinced Brian Pastuszenski, a prominent securities lawyer whose Testa client list included Oracle Corp. and Alkermes Inc. William Schnoor, a high-powered deal maker, said Pisa convinced him Goodwin would be a good home for his clients, which ranged from Red Hat Inc. to Charles River Ventures. Drawn by the momentum of Pisa’s recruiting blitz, John Egan, who had left Goodwin several years ago for a different firm, returned.

In what may be the biggest coup in Boston legal history, Pisa has struck deals with 25 Testa partners and 35 associates — more than any other firm. Said Schnoor: “She was able to size people up and connect with them very quickly.”

A fast-changing US legal market that is increasingly dominated by giant firms is shaking up Boston’s legal community. At least three large firms have failed — Gaston & Snow, Hill & Barlow, and now Testa — while others have merged to create larger entities.

Goodwin Procter, with 630 lawyers, is not the largest or most profitable firm in town. But Pisa is transforming the staid, old-line institution into a tough competitor and earning praise, even from out-of-town firms invading her Boston turf.

Under Pisa, Goodwin is “a very worthy competitor,” said Robert Kafin, chief operating partner of Proskauer Rose in Manhattan.

A handful of women sit at the helm of the 100 largest US law firms. After polling Goodwin’s lawyers for candidates to be their new leader, a five-person committee drafted Pisa in 1998. She sought advice from Lawrence Fish, chief executive of Citizens Financial Group.

As a banking partner, Pisa had helped land Citizens as a client and impressed him during the banking company’s negotiations to acquire the retail operation of Mellon Financial Corp. He was drawn to her wit, and he was the type of chief executive she could invite to, say, Jimmy Buffett’s concert in Fenway Park. She brings fine bottles of red wine when visiting Fish and his wife at their summer home in Falmouth. Her risottos, pork chops, and pestos are “brilliant,” Fish said.

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