Seven Wolf Block Schorr & Solis-Cohen partners -- many of whom had leadership positions in the firm -- will be joining Hangley Aronchick Segal & Pudlin as shareholders, giving Hangley Aronchick two new practice groups and a new Montgomery County, Pa., office, the firms said in a joint release Thursday.
It was Wolf Block's clear intention to grow the 300-lawyer firm through a potentially large-scale merger that spawned the move, according to Hangley Aronchick Chairman William T. Hangley. The partners are expected to transfer to Hangley Aronchick by March 2, although Hangley indicated the move could be completed as early as Monday.
"These were people who basically decided that they wanted to go small," Hangley said.
Making the move on the litigation side are Wolf Block former litigation group Chairman M. Norman Goldberger, business litigation assigning partner Matthew A. White and litigation partner Laura E. Krabill.
Goldberger also served as the firm's financial partner until he gave up that role last fall, Wolf Block Chairman Mark L. Alderman said.
Kenneth J. Warren and Steven T. Miano, who served as co-chairmen of Wolf Block's environmental and land use practice, will start Hangley Aronchick's first environmental department. The pair had left Wolf Block in 1989 to join the firm's environmental offshoot, Manko Gold Katcher & Fox. They returned to Wolf Block in 1999 to lead the department and were considered top lateral hires at the time.
Wolf Block's environmental practice will now be headed by Philadelphia-based partner Kermit L. Rader and Boston-based partner Kenneth A. Reich. Roseland, N.J.-based William J. Friedman will serve as vice chairman.
Partners turned shareholders Cheryl L. Young and Helen E. Casale will bring Hangley Aronchick both a new Montgomery County office and a new matrimonial and domestic relations practice. Young had served as the managing partner of Wolf Block's Norristown, Pa., office. That role will be taken over by partners Lynne Gold-Bikin and Daniel J. Clifford. Young also recently served as president of the Montgomery County Bar Association.
"Wolf Block is a great firm, but it's a 300-lawyer firm with an eye to becoming even larger through merger or expansion, and I've decided that I prefer to work in a smaller environment," Goldberger said in a statement. "Hangley Aronchick has one of the country's great business litigation departments, but its smaller size (the firm will have fewer than 60 lawyers after the new shareholders arrive) makes it easier to retain the kind of small working environment that I am looking for."
Hangley said he and Goldberger had been friends for years. Despite knowing that Goldberger wanted to move to a smaller firm environment, Hangley said he encouraged Goldberger to stay at Wolf Block because of the high regard Hangley has for the firm.
"Wolf is an important place in the history of Philadelphia, in the history of the Philadelphia legal community," Hangley said.
When it became clear that Goldberger was going to make a move and was interested in Hangley Aronchick, Hangley said he put him in touch with the firm's board. Hangley said he didn't want to run negotiations because of his relationship with Wolf Block.
One of the dilemmas of being a smaller firm, Hangley said, is that to provide clients with multiple services, it would have to turn into the large law firm it currently resists becoming. Hangley Aronchick has been selective in which outside practices were brought in to the litigation-focused boutique.
A few years ago, the firm added Wendy Beetlestone's education law practice, for example.
Hangley said Goldberger, White and Krabill bring in a securities litigation focus the firm didn't previously do a lot of and Krabill will become the firm's first patent litigator.
He said it will be great to have environmental lawyers in-house for the first time and the firm's business clients could potentially benefit from having domestic relations attorneys on hand.
Liz Shapiro of Liz Shapiro Legal Search said this is a "tremendous addition" for Hangley Aronchick. She said Goldberger is extremely intelligent and a great addition along with White. She said she thought White would be at Wolf Block forever.
Once the new shareholders are settled in, Hangley said the group would undoubtedly determine a few Wolf Block associates who may want to make the move over. In keeping with how the transaction has been handled thus far, Hangley said, his firm would ask permission of Wolf Block to talk with those associates.According to Alderman, the departure of the seven partners did not come as a complete surprise.
"This was as close to a joint decision as is practically possible," he said.While some of the departures may have been partially practice driven, Alderman said it really came down to what size firm was the right fit. He said the firm wouldn't look to immediately fill the positions left by the seven partners.
As Wolf Block focuses on growth, he said there would clearly be attorneys who do not fit in the "ever-larger firm model." He said that would be the case at any firm that is looking to expand.
Frank D'Amore of Attorney Career Catalysts said he has seen several firms across the country lose attorneys after announcing potential merger plans. He said some attorneys would rather leave on their own volition than be put on the defensive when a merger actually goes through.
In terms of the departing attorneys' practices, D'Amore said litigation is clearly still strong in firms and, while environmental litigation isn't as busy, firms are still focusing on the regulatory and transactional side of the practice.
Domestic relations practices are rare in the city's largest law firms because of rates and the potential for conflict, he said.
"Those practices become a difficult fit the bigger the firm gets," D'Amore said of the family law work.
Young, however, is "widely viewed as one of the top domestic attorneys in the city," he said.