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Bruce Lees of Litigation Join Ex-Exec Battle

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In its fight with Microsoft over an executive's defection, Google has enlisted attorneys from a small but high-powered law firm.

Kekar & Van Nest, a 50-lawyer firm based in San Francisco, represented Grokster in its legal battle over file sharing, and also represented Wall Street banker Frank Quattrone and former Enron leader Andrew Fastow in criminal cases. The firm specializes in "complex civil and criminal litigation", according to its website, and was judged "litigation boutique of the year" earlier this year by The American Lawyer trade publication.

Court filings made public on Wednesday show Google requested that five attorneys from Kekar & Van Nest join its legal team. The requests, filed on 16 August, were approved by the court.

The addition of the Kekar & Van Nest attorneys is a further sign of the high stakes in the battle over former Microsoft executive Kai-Fu Lee. Google hired Lee last month to lead a new research-and-development centre in China and serve as president of its Chinese operations. The same day, Microsoft sued both Lee and Google. Microsoft claims Lee's new job violates a one-year non-compete clause, which bars him from doing work that competes with projects he worked on at Microsoft.

In court documents, Google has called Microsoft's suit a "charade" that's really meant to scare Microsoft employees into staying put. Google has claimed Lee is "not a search expert" and described him as peripheral to Microsoft's business in China - though a document Microsoft said it found in the recycle bin of one of Lee's computers indicates Google anticipated a possible lawsuit in hiring Lee.

A Washington state judge has temporarily barred Lee from performing work at Google that competes with what he did at Microsoft.

Microsoft is represented in the legally complex case by the firm Preston Gates & Ellis. Microsoft chairman Bill Gates' father was a founding partner of the firm.

Google has been represented in the case by Dorsey & Whitney, a firm with nearly 640 attorneys. It has a range of legal practices, including mergers and acquisitions and intellectual property litigation.

Used with permission from CNET Networks UK Ltd. Copyright 2005. All rights reserved.