After years of looking for what it considered the right way to enter the New York market, Ballard Spahr is set to officially launch in the city Monday with the acquisition of noted white-collar and securities litigation boutique Stillman & Friedman.
The two firms have created a new legal entity in New York, Ballard Spahr Stillman & Friedman, which will be the name of the firm in the city for the next two or so years. Once the branding efforts are completed, the Stillman & Friedman name will drop off, the heads of the two firms said last week. Ballard Spahr Chairman Mark Stewart said the firm was advised it was easier to combine the LLP and PC through creating a separate legal entity.
All 14 Stillman & Friedman attorneys will be joining Ballard Spahr and will maintain their current titles. The firm has nine partners, two counsel and three associates.
When Ballard Spahr has opened in other locations, the firm has looked to do so with prominent lawyers who would give the firm an immediate credibility in the market, Stewart said. It quickly became apparent when Stewart met with Charles Stillman last September that Stillman's firm would give Ballard Spahr that instant credibility, Stewart said.
Stillman has run his own boutique litigation firm in some capacity for nearly 40 years and his client roster has been the who's who of New York legal and political scenes. He has been approached a number of times over the years about a merger, but had worked in larger firms before and wanted to maintain his independence.
When a headhunter brought Stillman & Friedman and Ballard Spahr together, the timing and opportunity were right.
"What a nice way to write another chapter," Stillman said.
For Stillman and his firm, which he has run with longtime partner Julian Friedman, the merger offered a longer-term strategy for their younger partners. Stewart and Stillman were both quick to point out that Stillman was years away from retiring.
"It's a nice bridge to the future for everybody," Stillman said.
Ballard Spahr, with about 500 lawyers and now 14 offices, gives Stillman & Friedman a national platform and access to more than 200 litigators. Stillman said his firm has handled interesting investigations over the years, "but if you want to get the big ones," the firm needed more people to help handle those cases.
"There is a realization that size is important," he said.
At its height, Stillman & Friedman had just fewer than 20 lawyers. In October 2011, Stillman, Friedman & Shechtman name partner Paul Shechtman left the firm for Zuckerman Spaeder.
Ballard Spahr and Stillman & Friedman also have some complementary practice areas. Stillman & Friedman recently defended a case involving a municipal securities enforcement matter. Stewart said that dovetails with Ballard Spahr's public finance and municipal recovery practices. Ballard Spahr's experience on the public finance side combined with Stillman & Friedman's litigation experience in the area gives Ballard Spahr an edge in an era where government enforcement of municipal securities is increasing, Stewart said.
To that end, Ballard Spahr is also set to announce today that it will create a municipal securities regulatory and enforcement practice led by Ballard Spahr partners M. Norman Goldberger, William Rhodes and John Grugan.
Ballard Spahr has also looked to grow its white-collar defense capabilities, adding a San Diego office two years ago with the addition of a team of white-collar and commercial litigators. Stillman & Friedman's deep white-collar experience will further bolster those efforts.
And Stewart said Ballard Spahr's consumer financial services practice will gain from Stillman & Friedman's ties to the financial services sector. Ballard Spahr partner Alan Kaplinsky, who runs the consumer financial services practice, is planning on spending a lot of his time in the new New York office.
The goal for Ballard Spahr is to grow the New York location beyond the practice areas Stillman & Friedman has historically handled. Stewart noted his firm already has a number of clients in New York, but having an office will help grow that work. He said the real estate, energy, public finance and litigation practices will all benefit from the new location.
Stillman & Friedman's building at 425 Park Ave., where it has two floors of space, is closing in 2015. The firms will now start looking for new space for the combined entity that provides room for growth, the two leaders said.
Shechtman, the former name partner at Stillman & Friedman, said in a brief comment about the combination, "Any out-of-town firm that can acquire the talent of Stillman & Friedman should count itself lucky."
Practitioners in other New York white-collar boutiques praised the combination, calling Stillman a "dean of the white-collar bar" in New York, while the combination would give more support for younger attorneys at Stillman & Friedman.
"Charlie has been practicing for a long time. He has a lot of people who have been with him for a long time," said Frederick Hafetz, a partner at Hafetz Necheles & Rocco. "This really secures a prominent future for them."
Hafetz said more boutiques and small firms in New York could forge ties with larger firms in the near future, especially as large firms look to secure offices in Manhattan.
Hafetz added, "It's a feather in [Stillman's] cap that a prominent firm like Ballard has asked him to spearhead their New York office."
Stanley Arkin of Arkin Solbakken in New York is a longtime friend of Stillman and has had a white-collar defense practice for more than 40 years. Arkin said the practice area is changing. Technology and increasing regulations mean more attorneys are handling white-collar defense and larger firms are often essential to handling many of the cases.
"When we started, big firms wouldn't do criminal work," Arkin said.
Now those firms understand it to be a profit center, he said.
As for the merger, Arkin said the deal is a "bounty" for both sides.
"Ballard Spahr could not have done better than getting Charlie," Arkin said. "Everybody in town knows Charlie and everybody respects him."
The Lawyer's Lawyer
Stillman has had a storied legal career that began as a bailiff to federal Judge Irving R. Kaufman, followed by a stint as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York under then U.S. Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau. Stillman moved to smaller firms and created his own shop with a friend, but ultimately wanted to go out on his own. So he did in 1977, bringing with him associate Friedman, who later became his partner.
A chance representation at the start of this new firm got Stillman going on a number of significant white-collar matters. That chance representation, won through an interview process, was to represent Rev. Sun Myung Moon on tax evasion charges and other related matters. From there, things blossomed.
Stillman has represented Sol Wachtler, the former chief judge of the New York State Court of Appeals, on extortion charges; Clark Clifford, an attorney to presidents from Harry Truman through Jimmy Carter who ended up as a key figure in the Bank of Credit and Commerce International scandal; former New York Mayor David Dinkins, who was investigated and cleared over a stock deal; Gary Singer, a former Cooper Cos. co-chairman who was charged with racketeering; and Robert Brethen, a former Phillips Industries Inc. CEO charged with insider trading.
Christine Simmons is a reporter for the New York Law Journal, a Legal affiliate. •