As Blank Rome closes an office abroad, it is expanding closer to home with the acquisition of a maritime boutique.

Just days after confirming its Hong Kong office was closing, Blank Rome announced it acquired all of the attorneys in Houston-based maritime law firm Bell, Ryniker & Letourneau.

Blank Rome initially opened in Hong Kong with a maritime law bent through its 2006 merger with Healy & Baillie. It expanded into Shanghai in 2011 to focus on finance and mergers and acquisitions work. The four lawyers who were until recently working in the Hong Kong location have joined other firms. There are currently four attorneys in the firm's Shanghai office, including partner Barry Genkin, who splits his time between Asia and the United States.

Blank Rome Chairman Alan Hoffman said Shanghai has become the largest port in the world and has brought in more maritime work for the firm than Hong Kong was handling. With the Hong Kong office's lease set to expire, Hoffman said the firm felt its investment in Asia was better focused on Shanghai, which now handles corporate, maritime and intellectual property matters.

"One of our mantras in today's day and age is to remain relevant to our clients and our Shanghai office was much more relevant to our clients than our Hong Kong office had become," Hoffman said.

While the relevance of Hong Kong may have waned for Blank Rome, Houston and its maritime work has become increasingly attractive for the firm.

The Houston acquisition adds eight lawyers to an office Blank Rome has been expanding since officially launching in June 2011. After one partner had a presence on the ground in Texas for about a year, Blank Rome opened a dedicated location in Houston in 2011 with the acquisition of 10-attorney litigation boutique Abrams Scott & Bickley. With the addition of the maritime lawyers, the firm now has 19 lawyers in the city.

The newest team brings both maritime and energy law experience to the Houston office along with experience handling insurance, transportation, government contracts and construction matters. Michael K. Bell, Keith B. Letourneau and Douglas J. Shoemaker are joining Blank Rome as partners. Robert J. Ryniker and James C. Arnold join as of counsel, and Mitchell R. Machann, Tracy Freeman and David G. Meyer join as associates.

Blank Rome said the new team brings the firm's maritime practice to 40 attorneys across its New York, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Houston offices. Hoffman said the firm's maritime lawyers were spending a lot of time traveling to the Houston office and it made sense for the firm to get maritime lawyers on the ground there.

Blank Rome has become familiar with Bell Ryniker over the years. Bell and Jim Ellis, whose Washington firm, Dyer Ellis & Joseph, merged with Blank Rome in 2003 and brought a significant maritime component to Blank Rome, have known each other for years. The heads of Blank Rome's maritime practice in New York and Washington have also known and worked with Bell Ryniker attorneys over the years, Hoffman said. With a Houston location, Ellis was finally able to pitch the Bell Ryniker attorneys on joining Blank Rome, Hoffman said.

While the lawyers handle some energy work, Hoffman said their addition doesn't satisfy the firm's desire to have full-time energy attorneys on the ground in Houston.

Blank Rome is looking at further expansion in both Houston and Shanghai as well as in other markets. Hoffman said the firm isn't eyeing any new markets abroad, but would like to strengthen its presence along the East Coast and in California. He said Blank Rome doesn't have an office in the Midwest other than Cincinnati and the firm could look to add a location in that region.

Gina Passarella can be contacted at 215-557-2494 or at gpassarella@alm.com. Follow her on Twitter @GPassarellaTLI.