Wolf Block has made no secret of its interest in growth by merger and the firm is starting down that path with the acquisition of a small Delaware firm led by a former First State attorney general.
The five-attorney Oberly Jennings & Rhodunda firm will operate under the Wolf Block banner effective May 1.
Name partners Charles M. Oberly III and Kathleen M. Jennings will join as partners in the firm's business litigation practice and name partner William J. Rhodunda will join as a partner in Wolf Block's real estate and environmental land use practices.
Associates Karen V. Sullivan and Chandra J. Rudloff will join the business litigation practice.
The addition brings a substantial white-collar and corporate investigations practice to Wolf Block's Wilmington office, and the firm anticipates that practice will expand beyond the borders of Delaware. It also bolsters the real estate and litigation practices in the Wilmington market.
Prior to starting his own firm, Oberly spent 12 years as the attorney general for the state of Delaware and served as the deputy attorney general and a state prosecutor in the criminal division of the office. His practice focuses on commercial, corporate and civil litigation, government relations, internal corporate investigations and white-collar defense.
Jennings is a former chief deputy attorney general in Delaware, where she supervised all health care fraud investigations and litigation. She also served as acting state prosecutor for the criminal division and as deputy attorney general in the Delaware attorney general's office. Jennings' practice is in the areas of commercial, personal injury and white-collar defense matters.
Jennings and Oberly represent local businesses as well as national and international clients with business before the Delaware courts.
Rhodunda has litigation experience but focuses the majority of his practice on real estate, land use and zoning issues. He represents several local and regional developers on those matters and handles the government-relations aspect of the deals as well. Rhodunda is a former chief counsel for New Castle County Government and a former city solicitor for the city of Wilmington.
Wolf Block Wilmington office managing partner Thomas P. McGonigle said he was charged with growing the office since he joined the firm in May 2005. He was immediately interested in the Oberly Jennings group and began a conversation with them at that time.
McGonigle said Oberly Jennings had been talking to a few other firms then and wasn't exactly sure what it wanted to do, so the talks fizzled.
About six months ago, the two sides got back in touch and things progressed from there, McGonigle said.
Wolf Block was interested in growing the litigation and real estate groups in Delaware and firmwide. White-collar defense and corporate investigations was something the firm wanted to grow nationally, he said, making the Oberly Jennings group a great fit.
Prior to the addition of Oberly Jennings, the Wilmington office was focused on litigation, real estate and government relations. The office will now bolster that work and add the white-collar component. McGonigle said he didn't think Jennings would continue to do much of the personal injury work she had been handling.
Jennings agreed and said she didn't see personal injury as a primary focus of her practice. She said she hopes to spend equal time on civil litigation and white-collar defense, but often the white-collar defense and regulatory practice takes over when those cases get busy.
That was one of the reasons Jennings said she was ready to join a large firm. She has been involved with criminal work as a prosecutor, administrator and defense attorney for many years, and noticed working in a small firm became more difficult over the past few years.
"I found that it was increasingly difficult to handle the cases that were more complex in a smaller firm atmosphere," she said.
With the addition of Oberly Jennings, Wolf Block's Wilmington office will have 18 professionals, including 15 attorneys and three government relations practitioners who are part of the firm's wholly owned government relations subsidiary.
McGonigle said he wants to continue to expand in the litigation, real estate and white-collar areas and add a bankruptcy component. There is no target number of attorneys he would want to hit.
"Delaware tends to be a lawyer-by-lawyer type growth strategy," he said.Rhodunda said he is looking forward to joining a larger firm with an established real estate practice in Wilmington. He said the economy hasn't had much of an effect on his work and he looks forward to growing his practice in a larger setting.
There are few firms in the Wilmington market, Rhodunda said, that handle the real estate development and approval portion of the practice, focusing instead on the transactional side. He said Wolf Block was one of those few firms, which will mesh well with his existing practice.
Oberly's ties run deep in Delaware. In 1994, he unsuccessfully ran as a Democrat for a seat in the U.S. Senate against then-incumbent Sen. William Roth. In May 2003, The Legal Intelligencer's sister paper, the Delaware Law Weekly, ran a story that said Oberly was a finalist for a seat on the Delaware Supreme Court.
He and Jennings join a few other Wolf Block attorneys who have experience working in the public sector of the First State. Partner Joseph C. Schoell served as legal counsel to Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner and was her deputy counsel prior to that. McGonigle served as chief legal counsel and policy director to former Delaware governor, now U.S. senator, Thomas R. Carper.
Real estate and environmental land use partner Shawn P. Tucker served as an attorney with New Castle County handling the county's land use matters and litigation.
Jennings said she worked with several of the Wolf Block attorneys before and looks forward to using their shared background to develop a broader practice.Robert E. Welsh Jr. of Welsh & Recker in Philadelphia, has known Jennings since the two were in high school and law school together. They worked as prosecutors in parallel offices as well.
Elizabeth Bennett of the Delaware Law Weekly contributed to this report.