Following what its founding member said was its best revenue year to date, Pittsburgh-based litigation, transportation and business law firm Burns White has subdivided its litigation practice, creating stand-alone environmental, immigration, employment, oil and gas and banking and financial services litigation groups.
Founding member David B. White said the firm was prompted to single out those practices in particular because they’ve all been increasingly busy as of late.
“Once we started to get more and more of that kind of work, I thought it was a wise move to be more specific with our categorization of litigation,” he said.
White said 2010 was the firm’s “best year ever from a revenue standpoint,” but noted that the firm’s costs also went up last year.
He said he did not know the percentage of the revenue increase from 2009.
Still, according to White, several of the firm’s practices saw significant upticks last year, many of which can be traced directly to the economic downturn.
Banking and financial services litigation, for example, has increased because of the influx of jilted lenders and disgruntled borrowers stemming from the recession, he said.
Banks have had to get more aggressive with borrowers in default, while borrowers have likewise taken action against financial institutions they claim misled them, White said.
While some of the firm’s practices have benefited from businesses in turmoil, others, he said, have risen on the strength of the rare booming industry, such as the Marcellus Shale play.
Although the firm has maintained a thriving oil and gas practice for nearly 15 years, White said, the flurry of activity surrounding the shale has significantly increased business in that area.
Environmental compliance work and environmental litigation have also seen an uptick as a result of the play, he said.
In addition to compartmentalizing its litigation practice, the firm gave each new practice group a new leader or co-leader, naming Chad A. Wissinger chair of the environmental group, Francis D. Wymard chair of the immigration group and Dean F. Falavolito co-chair of the employment law group, joining Jeffrey S. Adler.
It also named Lyle D. Washowich co-chair of the banking and financial services litigation group and Kevin M. Eddy and Jeffrey D. Roberts as co-chair of the oil and gas group.
White is also co-chair of both of these groups.
All of the newly named chairs and co-chairs are associates except for Wissinger, who is a partner.
White said each of them has gained “significant expertise” in his respective practice area.
“We wanted to give them a platform to lead a group because, whether they were an associate or not, we felt their knowledge of a particular industry was such that they deserved to be a chair or a co-chair,” he said.
According to White, each of these new chairs and co-chairs is intended to act as a “clearinghouse” for client inquiries.
“Those individuals are the ones that do the most significant amount of work in those respective areas of our firm,” White said.
Philadelphia-based Cohen Seglias Pallas Greenhall & Furman took a similar tack in August when it established stand-alone commercial litigation, transactional and creditors’ rights practices, all of which were previously contained under the firm’s business practice group.
“We saw a need to have more individualized practice group management of each, with each having their own individual marketing plans,” John A. Greenhall, the firm’s then-managing partner, told The Legal at the time.
For Burns White, the creation of new practice groups represents the latest change in what has proven to be an eventful six months.
In August of last year, David J. Hickton, one of the five founding members of the firm, was confirmed and sworn in as the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania.
This prompted the firm to change its name from Burns White & Hickton to simply Burns White, citing a legal obligation to drop Hickton from the nameplate once he became a public official.
Hickton was an executive member of the firm from 1987 to 2008 but had most recently served as of counsel.
White said the transition following Hickton’s departure has gone “very smoothly,” particularly since Hickton began the process of transferring most of his clients to other attorneys at the firm a few years ago.
On Jan. 3, the firm brought aboard Pittsburgh solo attorney Stephen S. Stallings, a former federal prosecutor, to chair its white-collar criminal defense practice.
White told The Legal at the time that he has been serving as the “de facto chair” of the practice but that bringing Stallings on board as the practice’s first official head represents the firm’s intention to increase its focus on white-collar criminal defense.
White also said the firm was now planning to broaden the focus of its white-collar practice beyond Western Pennsylvania to eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey and West Virginia.
Speaking to The Legal Wednesday, White said the firm is still looking to grow and build on its strengths.
According to White, those strengths include, along with the aforementioned practices, the firm’s transportation, business transactional and Medicare set-aside and compliance practices,
White said defending railroads from national occupational claims has been a leading money-maker for the firm since day one.
“That’s been steady since the day we opened our doors in 1987,” he said. “It’s always been a strong business sector.”
White attributed his firm’s ability to maintain a healthy transaction practice during a trying economy to Richard A. O’Halloran, a member in the firm’s West Conshohocken, Pa., office, and his team.
“They’ve done a great job for some clients and it’s that repeat business that’s allowed us to grow,” he said.
Medicaid set-aside and compliance work, White said, has increased “dramatically over the last five or six years.”
“It’s probably our fastest growing group,” he said.
And while the firm does have its eye on expansion both in terms of practices and personnel, White said it has no specific targets for either.
Instead, he said, it’s keeping an eye out for opportunities as they present themselves.
In the meantime, the firm is looking forward to the coming year, having successfully weathered an economic storm that left many other firms bruised and battered, according to White.
“We’ve done very well over the last three years and 2011 looks even better for us,” he said. •