Pittsburgh-based Thorp Reed & Armstrong’s four-lawyer employee benefits and executive compensation practice is leaving to join Saul Ewing’s Pittsburgh office, according to several sources in the Pennsylvania legal community.

Partner-in-charge of the practice, Sarah Lockwood Church, along with counsel Joni Landy and senior counsel Paul A. Kasicky and Kevin A. Wiggins, are set to join the recently opened office, sources said.

Church, who joined Thorp Reed in 2003, formerly served as the director of compensation and benefits for KPMG’s Pennsylvania Business Unit.

The group’s practice focuses on assisting employers with adopting, amending and terminating employee benefits plans, as well as representing plan sponsors and administrators before the Internal Revenue Service, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. and the U.S. Department of Labor.

The group also does Employee Retirement Income Security Act compliance work.

Thorp Reed Chief Marketing Officer Cynthia Tonet-Stewart said in an email Friday that she had "not received any official notice from our firm partnership that any of our attorneys in the employee benefits practice are leaving our firm as of this afternoon; therefore, I can’t confirm anything to you on that issue."

A spokesperson for Saul Ewing said in an email Friday that "although we are always talking to potential lateral candidates, we don’t have anything to announce at this time."

The addition of Church’s group would nearly double the size of Saul Ewing’s Pittsburgh office, bringing it to nine attorneys.

According to Saul Ewing’s website, the firm currently has seven attorneys in its employee benefits and executive compensation practice. Five of them are in the firm’s Washington, D.C., office, one is in its Harrisburg office and the other is in its Philadelphia office.

Saul Ewing opened its Pittsburgh office in May 2012 with four attorneys from Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis.

The group — partners Jay Panzarella, Adam F. Kelson and David R. Berk and associate Christopher Evans — focuses on corporate finance, business counseling, tax, and mergers and acquisitions.

In January, K&L Gates partner John P. Englert joined Saul Ewing’s Pittsburgh office as a partner in the firm’s energy, environment and utilities department.

Saul Ewing managing partner David S. Antzis told The Legal in January that the firm would continue to focus on growing in Pittsburgh.

Meanwhile, several sources told The Legal in January that Thorp Reed is in merger talks with Detroit-based Clark Hill.

Tonet-Stewart said at the time that the firm is always exploring new ways to serve its clients, including law firm collaborations. But she said it is a firm policy not to discuss the names of any organization it may be talking to.

"We have many, many discussions with organizations and firms of all kinds," Tonet-Stewart said, adding again that the firm doesn’t comment on who those discussions are with.

At about 100 lawyers firmwide, a merger would most likely mean Thorp Reed would be absorbed by the 220-lawyer Clark Hill, according to Dan Scott, an attorney headhunter with Clarkston, Mich.-based Movement.

But despite the size difference, Scott said the two firms are comparable.

"The market vertical they occupy is similar," Scott said, describing Clark Hill as a general practice commercial firm.

Clark Hill has offices in Detroit, Grand Rapids, Birmingham and Lansing, Mich.; Washington, D.C.; Phoenix; and Chicago. Aside from its Pittsburgh headquarters, Thorp Reed has offices in Philadelphia; Wilmington, Del.; Princeton, N.J.; and Wheeling, W.Va.

In 2012, Legal affiliate The National Law Journal ranked Clark Hill 205th on its NLJ 350, a ranking of firms by attorney headcount. At that time, Clark Hill had 196 lawyers, including 102 partners and 82 associates.

After a 2008 merger with Philadelphia-based Kittredge Donley Elson Fullem & Embick, Thorp Reed had 117 full-time lawyers in Pennsylvania and a total of 119 attorneys firmwide, according to Legal affiliate PaLaw 2008. In 2012, according to the latest edition of PaLaw, Thorp Reed had 81 full-time attorneys in Pennsylvania and 95 lawyers firmwide.

Tonet-Stewart said the firm had a "very strong financial performance" in 2012, beating budget on both net revenue and net income. She said the firm is in a "really good position with strong billings" going into 2013.

Some of the firm’s initiatives in 2013 will be focused on its core practice areas of financial services, manufacturing and health care related to employee benefits and managed services, Tonet-Stewart said. The firm has also looked to strengthen its labor and employment and corporate practices.

The talks with Clark Hill do not mark the first time Thorp Reed has entertained a merger in recent years. In 2006, the firm was in discussions with Ohio-based Dinsmore & Shohl. Those talks broke down and a few months later a four-lawyer toxic tort team from Thorp Reed left to join Dinsmore & Shohl.

Zack Needles can be contacted at 215-557-2493 or zneedles@alm.com. Follow him on Twitter @ZNeedlesTLI.