There was a spurt of lateral movement in Pennsylvania in the latter half of July and the bulk of those hires joined law firms from their in-house positions.
While books of business are in high demand in this economic climate, law firms across the state appear to have found value in the experience and contacts in-house counsel can bring to a firm, even if they aren’t bringing a roster of paying clients.
Maura McAnney of McAnney, Esposito & Kraybill Associates in Pittsburgh said both law firms and law departments have changed their business models to some degree over the past few years and it has made hiring between the two a bit more fluid.
“Each entity has redesigned what it looks for in a lawyer,” McAnney said.
Law firms have become better at pricing services, making law departments more likely to farm out certain work to outside law firms. When that happens, the in-house attorney who once did the work may move to the law firm that is now hired to handle it, McAnney said.
In-house lawyers are also much closer to the business team than they have ever been, making those connections and that business acumen attractive to law firms, she said.
And while they may not be bringing books of business, lawyers can no longer get away with avoiding business development, no matter their backgrounds, McAnney said. Years ago, in-house lawyers often lost the drive to develop business because they were out of that game for so long. They don’t have that luxury anymore, she said.
Some lawyers look to law firms as a way to rebuild their contacts and networking skills.
Major, Lindsey & Africa managing director Deborah Z. Thompson focuses on placing attorneys into in-house positions. She said an increasing number of general counsel who were transitioned out of their roles due to a merger or bankruptcy are looking for temporary homes in law firms while they “rejuvenate” their networks and find another in-house position. Thompson said GCs would typically look to move right back into an in-house role, but she is getting asked more frequently by those GCs whether it is a good career move to make a pit stop at a law firm.
And there is one other reason law firms may be willing to hire in-house counsel these days. McAnney noted a dearth of experienced attorneys in practice areas that faced significant layoffs in 2008, such as real estate and corporate law. Of the six lateral moves noted in this article, all were on the corporate, real estate or regulatory side. None of the lawyers handles litigation.
Duane Morris picked up a lateral with longtime ties to real estate developer Toll Brothers Inc. Mark K. Kessler’s ties to Toll Brothers span decades and won’t end with his joining Duane Morris’ Philadelphia office as of counsel.
Kessler now splits his time, working in Duane Morris’ securities and corporate governance practice and continuing to serve as vice president and senior counsel to Toll Brothers.
Kessler served as outside counsel for Toll Brothers for years while he was at Wolf Block, then took over as full-time general counsel in 2007. The plan from the time he moved in-house was to train his successor along with leading the legal department. Kessler did just that, and in 2010, at the age of 74, turned over the helm of the department to his deputy, John K. McDonald.
When Kessler was looking to step back even further from his position at Toll Brothers this year, the homebuilder asked him not to leave completely, but gave its blessing for him to find an of counsel position to fill his spare time. Many of Kessler’s former Wolf Block corporate partners and associates landed at Duane Morris after Wolf Block dissolved, and some of his old clients did, too. Kessler is also a longtime friend of former Duane Morris Chairman Sheldon Bonovitz.
Kessler said his practice upon returning to private law firm life will not look anything like it did before.
“I think that the days of putting together registration statements for public offerings are over for me,” Kessler said.
He will be using his experience and ties to the community to help Duane Morris find opportunities for new clientele, and helping the firm’s attorneys on existing matters. Kessler will also look to bring in some corporate governance work to the firm. He said he would not be doing Toll Brothers work for Duane Morris.
There is a benefit to hiring attorneys from in-house roles, Kessler noted.
“I think it’s helpful to some large firms to have the thinking of people who have been inside … the legal department of the corporate world to come to the private side and provide some of the sensitivities to the law firm as to what inside counsel are looking for,” Kessler said. “I think it’s very helpful to a law firm to know how to negotiate those waters.”
Kessler said that experience can be helpful in soliciting new business for a law firm.
Cozen O’Connor had two lateral hires in Philadelphia in July, with one coming directly from a nonlawyer, in-house role and the other with experience as a lawyer for a government agency.
Howard Grossman joined the firm’s business law department as a member in the real estate practice. After a stint at Ballard Spahr from 1999 to 2002, Grossman served first as director of acquisitions for Morgan Properties and was most recently chief operating officer of Resource Investments Limited. Both companies had a focus on multifamily real estate development.
At Cozen O’Connor, Grossman will focus on multifamily rental properties, hotels, retail centers and office buildings. He will work on real estate projects involving public and private equity, debt financing and joint venture relationships. He also has experience in casino development. Cozen O’Connor has represented a few of the area casino investment groups.
Less than a week after Grossman joined the firm, Cozen O’Connor hired David P. Zambito from Post & Schell in Harrisburg. Prior to his time at Post & Schell, the utility attorney served as principal legal adviser to former Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission Chairman Glen Thomas. Zambito will focus his practice on regulatory and commercial issues involving utilities before state and federal agencies.
Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney hired an energy attorney last month as well. Mark D. Tattoli is moving from Texas to Pittsburgh to join the firm’s energy section. Tattoli joined from a counsel position with Texas-based NuStar Energy and prior to that he was in the Houston office of Haynes and Boone.
Tattoli focuses his practice on energy mergers and acquisitions and corporate transactions in the midstream space. He has worked on acquisitions of refining assets, pipeline systems and terminaling facilities.
In another move involving a Pittsburgh firm hiring an in-house lawyer, Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott re-hired Gregory A. Weingart to its corporate and business counseling practice. Weingart had practiced at the firm for 20 years before leaving in 2009 to serve as general counsel of FFC Capital Corp. He will focus his practice at Eckert Seamans on mergers and acquisitions and corporate finance.
“Greg’s combination of legal skills and perspective gained as a general counsel add a significant extra resource for our clients,” Timothy Q. Hudak, chairman of Eckert Seamans’ business division, said in a statement.
Lateral moves in July weren’t all focused on acquiring in-house experience.
Anderson Kill & Olick, which lost a large contingent of Philadelphia lawyers to Reed Smith a few years ago, hired one away from the firm earlier this month.
Reed Smith partner Carole B. Sheffield joined Anderson Kill’s Philadelphia office, where she now concentrates on estate and tax planning and trusts and estates administration, including real estate matters. Her clients include high-net-worth individuals, financial institutions, closely held businesses and nonprofit organizations.