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Philadelphia-based litigation boutique Conrad O’Brien Gellman & Rohn has undergone a changing of the guard. The firm announced Wednesday afternoon that it has overhauled its executive leadership committee with James J. Rohn, the firm’s managing shareholder of nearly 20 years, stepping down along with chair and co-founder William J. O’Brien, co-founder Nancy J. Gellman and shareholders Howard M. Klein, John A. Guernsey, Robert N. Feltoon and Deborah J. Krabbendam. O’Brien has become chair emeritus, Rohn is now the firm’s chair and Gellman is its vice chair. Taking over day-to-day management of the firm is new managing shareholder Nicholas M. Centrella and shareholders Patricia M. Hamill and Frank R. Emmerich Jr. Shareholder Helen J. Esbenshade also joined the committee and will manage the firm’s West Chester, Pa., office. Christine D. Thul, the firm’s chief financial officer for almost 20 years, will remain part of the management structure as well. “It’s very important to us that young people run this firm,” Rohn said, explaining that initial discussions about the transition began roughly a year ago and were inspired by the philosophy that “healthy things grow.” Rohn said that picking the new committee members was a natural process � there was no voting involved in the decision � and they spent most of 2007 in training to learn how to run a law firm. “It was a transition, all four of them are very good at what they do,” he said. “The partnership was very pleased with the transition.” Centrella said he and the other new committee recruits have been prepped for leadership roles since the day each of them signed on with the firm. “We’ve been given the opportunity to try cases at early ages,” he said, adding that each of them has been “blessed with the opportunity to develop clients and leadership skills.” Hamill and Centrella emphasized that all of the new committee members will continue to maintain full-time practices in addition to managing the firm. Conrad O’Brien, which has 35 attorneys, made headlines recently when Gellman and O’Brien represented Morgan Lewis & Bockius in its defeat of a former client’s $20 million contract claim at the end of January and Centrella represented Duane Morris in its successful fight against a former client’s legal malpractice claim in mid-February. Conrad O’Brien considers representing other law firms an important part of its business, said Centrella, who joined the firm from Duane Morris in 1994. “We’re a firm that many of the other firms turn to,” he said. Centrella and Hamill said Conrad O’Brien also does a lot of work on a national level for large clients looking for reasonably priced representation in cases that don’t necessarily require the giant staffs that only a megafirm can provide. “Morgan Lewis works with Hewlett Packard and so do we,” he offered as an example. The firm also counts Aegon USA Inc., the IBM Corp. and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia among its clients. It is for this reason that, despite its size, the firm considers itself to be in competition with the megafirms, many of which have tried to convince it to merge with them over the years. “Any time we have discussions with firms [about merging] it’s always a pleasant dilemma and quite flattering,” said Rohn, but he added that, while he respects the large firm model, for now the firm values the flexibility it enjoys as a small litigation boutique. In fact, Centrella said, the firm anticipates that, because of its size and focus, a wounded economy could actually bring more big-name business its way as clients increasingly seek to save money on legal fees. “Quite frankly, we believe that the general downturn in the economy will not affect us as a firm,” he said, adding that in 2007 the firm increased its revenue 16.7 percent from 2006 in what was probably its best year to date. “People always need good litigation counsel and we don’t think the economy will affect that. If anything, it could help us since we provide a nice alternative for large companies.” But while the firm is happy in its current state, Rohn said the decision to remodel its executive committee reflected a need to shake things up a bit in order to make the firm “work better and be more nimble and quicker.” “We needed to get a fresh look in 2008 to take us into the next five to 10 years,” he said, adding that the firm completed its sixth five-year plan late last year. David B. Pudlin, president and chief executive officer of Philadelphia-based Hangley Aronchick Segal & Pudlin and chair of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s mid-sized law firm management committee, said he considered Conrad O’Brien to be “an outstanding litigation boutique.” “Knowing them and having the respect I have for them, I think if anybody can transition to the next generation and do it well, they can,” he said. “They are very wise and strategic-thinking people running that firm and I would be very optimistic about their ability to succeed.” Centrella said a fresh outlook does not necessarily mean radical changes to firm philosophy. “When we look at this transition, we don’t look at it as a transition into new worlds,” he said. “This is a firm that has gotten better with consistent growth and it is our job is to continue that growth.” One of the most obvious manifestations of that growth strategy is the firm’s plan to open an office in Lancaster. Currently, in addition to its Philadelphia and West Chester offices, the firm has posts in West Conshohocken, Pa., Harrisburg and Cherry Hill, N.J., and Centrella said Lancaster is an attractive and rapidly developing hub of industry. The firm also hopes to expand through new associate and lateral hires, Centrella said, seeking to benefit from its size and stability in an unsound economic climate. “Certainly from our perspective we don’t look to grow for the sake of growing,” he said. “But we’re always on the lookout for talented partners and associates at all levels. Firms merging and rigid rate structures [at larger firms] help us to attract those types of lawyers.”

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