Tuesday, January 3, 2012

For big Pa. firms, a year of poaching groups

Go big or go home. That seemed to be the motto of large law firms in Pennsylvania when it came to growth opportunities in 2011.

One-off laterals had slowed to a crawl since the recession hit and have picked up only slightly in the last year or so. That tactic seems to have been replaced with the desire to pick off whole practice groups or smaller firms.

Blank Rome grabbed seven consumer financial services lawyers from Dilworth Paxson in early February, led by partner Wayne Streibich. His group has grown substantially over the year, with a total of 20 laterals coming in to assist the practice. That figure includes the initial group Streibich led to Blank Rome.

In May, Reed Smith started an e-discovery practice (another hot trend in 2011) with the addition of Pittsburgh-based K&L Gates partner David R. Cohen. Cohen was joined at his new firm just two weeks later by a 14-member e-discovery team from K&L Gates that included 11 lawyers and three staffers.

In November, Babst Calland capitalized on yet another hot area for Pennsylvania firms: energy. The firm grabbed 16 lawyers from Tucker Arensberg to focus on mergers and acquisitions and title work in the natural resources sector.

Morgan Lewis & Bockius picked up 11 lawyers across a few offices in February from the disbanding Howrey law firm.

Cozen O'Connor grabbed 19 lawyers this summer in New York from intellectual property boutique Cohen Pontani Lieberman & Pavane. That move came about a month after the firm added 14 lawyers in Houston who made up the bulk of Epstein Becker & Green's office in the city.

Blank Rome officially opened an office in Houston in June with the acquisition of 10-lawyer litigation boutique Abrams Scott & Bickley.

Saul Ewing opened a Boston office with the July acquisition of seven of the nine lawyers from real estate boutique Dionne & Gass. Dechert opened a Los Angeles office in April with four partners from Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe.

In January 2011, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney added five of the six lawyers at Wyomissing, Pa.-based energy boutique Ryan Russell Ogden & Seltzer.

In August, Fox Rothschild acquired the three lawyers from Los Angeles-based intellectual property boutique Chan Law Group. The following month, the firm added eight lawyers from Washington-based government contracts firm Smith Currie & Hancock.

Jonathan Petrakis of Deeb Petrakis Blum & Murphy left the firm in September to join Duane Morris along with partner J. Colin Knisely and associates Ashley A. Federer and Louise Melchor. The move caused Deeb Petrakis to change its name to Deeb Blum Murphy Frishberg & Markovich.

In early December, Ballard Spahr picked up a four-lawyer mortgage banking team from the Washington office of Patton Boggs. Later in the month, K&L Gates opened an office in Charleston, S.C., with the addition of seven resort and hospitality partners from Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein.

Though the firm didn't add any attorneys through the deal, Duane Morris announced in June that it entered an alliance with Mexico City firm Miranda & Estavillo. And Reed Smith decided not to undertake what would have been the biggest acquisition of the year when it announced in January 2011 that merger talks between it and Texas-based Thompson & Knight had ended.

Office openings and closings

Aside from large acquisitions, there were a number of office openings in 2011 through simply acquiring licenses to practice in certain jurisdictions or through the addition of one or two attorneys in that location.

Aside from its recent Charleston launch, K&L Gates opened an office in Brussels in February and then Sao Paulo in November.

Reed Smith opened an office in Shanghai in July, following Blank Rome's launch in the city in May.

Thorp Reed & Armstrong opened up a Delaware location in August and Duane Morris announced in the spring the planned closing of its Princeton, N.J., location.

Baltimore-based boutique Goodell DeVries Leech & Dann opened an office in Philadelphia with the addition of Dechert attorneys Robert Limbacher and Eben Flaster.

Leadership moves

Two longtime heads of some of Philadelphia's largest law firms stepped down in July after announcing more than a year earlier their succession plans. Arthur Makadon turned over leadership of Ballard Spahr to Mark Stewart. Earlier in the year, the firm welcomed back former Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell as a partner.

Barton J. Winokur handed over control of Dechert to Chairman Andrew J. Levander and CEO Dan O'Donnell.

Six months after being re-elected to another three-year term as Blank Rome's managing partner, Carl M. Buchholz announced in the spring that he was stepping down to focus on his practice.

Former Saul Ewing Chairman Stephen Aichele left the firm to take over as Pennsylvania's general counsel after Gov. Tom Corbett nominated him to the post. Similarly, Ballard Spahr partner Kenya Mann Faulkner took the position of inspector general of Pennsylvania.

Michael Zanic stepped down in August as head of K&L Gates' Pittsburgh office to take over leadership of the firm's newly created energy, infrastructure and resources group. Partner Carolyn Branthoover took over as administrative partner of the office.

There were a number of hires in the chief marketing officer and chief diversity officer positions at Pennsylvania's largest firms.

In January 2011, Dechert hired Wendy W. Taylor from a financial management firm to serve as its new CMO.

Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis hired Julie P. Meyers as its new CMO. She was previously with Pittsburgh-based Burns White.

Cozen O'Connor CMO Jim Staples moved into a newly created global strategy function at the firm, making way for Lisa Calvo Haas to take over as CMO this fall.

K&L Gates hired Valerie Jackson as its new chief diversity officer and Schnader Harrison named longtime partner Albert Dandridge III as its first CDO.

Other notable events

There were a number of other notable events that happened throughout the year.

Perhaps one of the most interesting was an increase in first-year associate salaries at a few of the state's largest law firms. Schnader Harrison, Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young, Blank Rome, Buchanan Ingersoll and Reed Smith all raised starting salaries, though none of them did so with the fanfare that has traditionally accompanied such announcements.

Similarly, the phenomenon of spring bonuses arose in 2011. The relatively new concept of a second round of bonuses started in New York and was adopted in a few instances in Pennsylvania.

Villanova University School of Law got into hot water after it admitted it knowingly misreported LSAT and GPA admissions data to the American Bar Association. The school was later censured by the ABA and has fully investigated the situation, fired certain staff members and vowed the incident will never happen again.

The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia fired General Counsel Roosevelt Hairston Jr. in February for embezzlement. He was sentenced later in the year to four years in prison.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia shook up its legal team, removing longtime outside counsel Stradley Ronon from its litigation work and replacing it with two firms, Conrad O'Brien and Welsh & Recker.

A number of firms created new practice areas in 2011.

Aside from Reed Smith, both Ballard Spahr and Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel created new e-discovery practices. Obermayer drew from attorneys within the firm while Ballard Spahr hired Dechert partner Philip Yannella to launch the practice.

Dechert created an outsourcing and offshoring practice with the hire of Vivian Maese from Morgan Stanley. The practice is housed in the firm's intellectual property department.

The legal industry lost some prominent members in 2011. Former ABA President and Schnader Harrison partner Jerome Shestack died in August at 88. Margolis Edelstein founder Ed Edelstein died in January 2011 at 79. Former Ballard Spahr partner Steven A. Arbittier died in May at the age of 72.

By Gina Passarella, The Legal Intelligencer

Source: The American Lawyer

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