Corporate attorney David P. Franklin has joined Pittsburgh-based Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott as a member from Pittsburgh-based Pietragallo Gordon Alfano Bosick & Raspanti, where he was a partner and co-chair of the business/corporate practice.
Franklin’s departure from Pietragallo Gordon coincides with the departure of his co-chair, Timothy M. Hazel, who left the firm to join Pietragallo Gordon client Millcraft Industries Inc., a Cecil Township, Pa.-based real estate development company.
Robert J. Monahan, formerly a senior associate in Pietragallo Gordon’s business/corporate and banking/finance groups, has also left the firm to become general counsel to another of the firm’s clients, Pittsburgh-based Superior Petroleum Co.
But Pietragallo Gordon founding partner William Pietragallo II told The Legal on Thursday that his firm will not seek to replace the attorneys with new hires, nor will it will name new chairs to its corporate practice.
Instead, Pietragallo said, the firm will sharpen its focus on its litigation practices, which he called the firm’s “core strengths.”
According to Pietragallo, the firm still has six corporate lawyers who will continue serving clients.
“We have clients that have business issues that we’re taking care of and we’re quite able to do that with our existing staff,” he said.
Franklin, who left Pietragallo Gordon as an associate in 1998 for Reed Smith but returned to the firm in 2008 as a partner, told The Legal on Thursday that he had not been looking to leave the firm until the opportunity to join Eckert Seamans arose.
Pietragallo Gordon is “a tremendous litigation firm, but I found myself kind of hitting the ceiling when it came to trying to develop a business practice there,” Franklin said, adding that while he was happy at his old firm, he immediately clicked with the lawyers at Eckert Seamans during his first meeting with them.
“When I met these guys, I realized there are some things still left for me to do someplace else,” Franklin said.
Timothy P. Ryan, chief executive officer of Eckert Seamans, said Franklin has “a very diverse corporate transactional practice and enjoys an outstanding reputation.”
“He sincerely is one of the most highly recognized and highly respected corporate lawyers in Pittsburgh,” Ryan said. “These opportunities don’t come along often.”
Right now is the perfect time to be opportunistic, Ryan added, explaining that his firm has begun to see corporate work make a comeback.
“‘Starting to pick up’ is the right phrase,” he said. “It’s not at ’07 levels but it is starting to show signs of life. It’s a very opportune time to find quality growth.”
Midsized firms across the state have been reporting promising indications of a resurgence in transactional work since early 2011, but by most accounts a full-fledged comeback has yet to take hold.
However, Franklin, who characterizes his client base as largely comprising “Western Pennsylvania nuts-and-bolts manufacturing businesses and mom-and-pop service businesses,” said he’s actually experienced a significant uptick in corporate and even real estate transactional work in his own practice.
Franklin attributes part of this resurgence to the fact that many of the contracts clients signed at the start of the recession simply to ensure they’d continue to have business during the downturn are beginning to expire.
Those clients are now eager to renegotiate terms in a more stable economy, Franklin said.
In addition, Franklin said, real estate development is starting up again and many of his clients are moving into new markets and taking on additional office space.
Franklin said he did experience a slowdown in business during the deepest throes of the recession, but was able to retain his client base, in part because of his rate flexibility.
According to Franklin, his public clients, in particular, seem to favor predictability in their legal costs, so he’s engaged in flat fee or project-based fee agreements with many of them.
Conversely, he said, private companies that don’t have as many day-to-day legal needs typically prefer hourly billing.
Franklin said that when he informed his clients of his move to Eckert Seamans, many of them inquired about whether their existing fee agreements would change.
“The nice thing I’ve seen here at Eckert is that they’ve allowed me the flexibility to maintain those relationships and fee structures,” Franklin said.