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Employment growth at New Jersey’s largest law firms staged a rebound last year, as competitive forces convinced them that it’s better to be bigger. The growth rate at 30 firms climbed to 4.3 percent in 2003, up from an anemic 1.5 percent in 2002, according to the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory’s 2004 and 2003 editions. Of the 30 firms, 19 added lawyers, eight lost lawyers and three stayed flat. Much of the hiring was related to heavy activity in employment, real estate, land use and commercial litigation. The Voorhees office of Ballard, Spahr, Andrews & Ingersoll went from 40 lawyers in 2002 to 51 in 2003 — a 27 percent jump that led the field. “You truly have to be a 40- or 50-lawyer office to be credible,” says local managing partner Benjamin Levin. “Size is a good thing because it gives you the opportunity to offer services that you couldn’t offer before.” Eight of the 30 firms studied had growth rates of 10 percent or more, and 5 of the 30 grew by at least 20 percent. The common theme of fast-growing firms was the competitive advantage to be gained by bolstering established practice areas while filling in perceived gaps in the menu of services. Ballard Spahr, for example, added an immigration specialist to its labor and employment division and an eminent domain specialist to its real estate group. The next planned areas for growth are healthcare compliance, regulatory and securities work, Levin says. At Princeton’s Stark & Stark, regional expansion and growth of niche practices are behind the 23 percent growth to 95 lawyers in 2003. The firm opened a four-lawyer Cherry Hill office and expanded its Philadelphia office, where personal injury and workers’ compensation practice is booming thanks to the firm’s ads on Philadelphia television stations, says co-managing partner John Sakson IV. Other busy practice groups that need extra hands are condominium homeowner association work and construction defect litigation over synthetic stucco exterior coating on homes and commercial buildings, he says. DeCotiis, FitzPatrick, Cole & Wisler — at 21 percent growth the fourth most rapid expander — beefed up its capabilities in land use, business transactional work, public finance, environmental work and professional liability defense. “We still have a number of areas where we would like to be stronger than we are now, namely corporate areas,” says managing partner Michael Cole at the Teaneck firm. “Our goal is to become a full-service law firm in every sense of the word. I think we’re almost there.” (Last year’s jump to 79 lawyers actually only puts the firm back where it was just before former name partner Michael Gluck led a 13-lawyer defection in late 2002.) SIZE MATTERS Not all expansion was practice-specific. The firm that added the most lawyers — 46 — was Roseland’s Lowenstein Sandler, second only to McCarter & English in attorney numbers. Managing director Michael Rodburg says the 24 percent growth spurt reflects a desire to raise the firm’s profile among potential clients. “When people are looking for law firms, you only think of two or three at the most. There’s a certain premium on being the largest or the second-largest firm in the state,” he says. “That’s certainly benefited McCarter & English over the years.” Unlike McCarter, which has recently expanded in other Northeast and Middle Atlantic states, Lowenstein will just concentrate on expanding in New Jersey, Rodburg says. If it continues on a course of expansion it plotted about six years ago, the firm could soon surpass McCarter in numbers of lawyers in New Jersey. McCarter’s local lawyer count actually declined last year, though its total numbers increased 3 percent to 320 — largely due to the arrival of 27 lawyers from Hartford’s Cummings & Lockwood. That offset the New Jersey decline from 259 in 2002 to 240 in 2003. Andi Jones, the firm’s director of professional personnel, says the latter statistic is a combination of normal attrition and gaps in reporting to Martindale-Hubbell. (Some associates fail to complete the laborious registration form in time.) But there is no shortage of New Jersey work, and the firm is looking to fill nine associate slots here, she says. PROFIT CENTERS The largest percentage drop in lawyers was at the Princeton and Newark offices of Pittsburgh’s Reed Smith: from 80 in 2002 to 68 in 2003. Steven Picco, Reed Smith’s managing partner for New Jersey, says the 15 percent reduction was normal attrition and staffing will be back to its previous level later this year. Three or four of those who left in the past year went to in-house jobs — moves that could benefit Reed Smith long term if the alumni steer business the firm’s way. “New Jersey remains one of the most profitable markets in which the firm operates,” Picco says. “We’re a net exporter of work to the firm.” New Jersey satellites of another Pennsylvania firm, Drinker, Biddle & Reath of Philadelphia, likewise saw reductions. The Florham Park office dropped from 110 attorneys in 2002 to 95 in 2003 and the Princeton office went from 43 lawyers to 41 — altogether, an 11 percent cut. Florham Park office managing partner Daniel O’Connell was vacationing last week but Princeton partner in charge Jonathan Epstein attributes the drop to normal attrition rather than a lack of work. Several associates from Florham Park transferred in the past year to the Princeton and New York offices, which have no summer programs and sometimes run short of associates, Epstein says. But for Ballard Spahr, improving the New Jersey presence is a high priority, even though the Philadelphia headquarters is only a short drive away. Voorhees managing partner Levin says the office expects to grow to 60 or 70 lawyers in the next few years and to increase its reach in central and northern New Jersey. The idea is to counteract a view that out-of-state firms have a halfhearted commitment to clients here. “We continue to understand better how to create a full-service New Jersey law firm and yet use the resources in Philadelphia when we need to,” he says. Martindale-Hubbell lists lawyers in each year’s edition based on data supplied by law firms the previous fall. The data are therefore subject to variances due to incomplete reporting by the firms. Related chart: Lawyer Employment Growth at Major New Jersey Law Firms

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