Evening view of Pittsburgh from the top of the Duquesne Incline in Mount Washington, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Evening view of Pittsburgh from the top of the Duquesne Incline in Mount Washington, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (ESB Professional/shutterstock)

Pittsburgh’s growing startup and technology scene is hardly a secret. And now it’s drawing the eyes of large law firms across the United States, as they begin to notice what local firms have been tapping into for years.

Legal industry watchers in Pittsburgh say more large firms are likely to build outposts in the city, as they aim to be close to its research institutions and young talent pool, while potentially drawing in lateral hires from Pittsburgh whose practices fit well in a national or international platform.

“Pittsburgh is sort of uniquely positioned because of the lower overhead associated with practicing in Pittsburgh, as well as the growing and dynamic tech community,” said Maura McAnney of McAnney, Esposito & Kraybill Associates, whose Pittsburgh-based legal recruiting business stands to benefit from the trend. “I do think more firms will begin to open up, mostly because there are so many Pittsburgh lawyers who have global practices.”

The most recent firm to take advantage of the city’s tech scene was Fragomen, which announced last month that it is opening an outpost in Pittsburgh dedicated to software and technology development. However, that location has no lawyers—just technologists.

Scott Angelo, Fragomen’s chief information officer, said his firm had noticed the other high-tech companies launching operations in Pittsburgh—including Uber, Google and Amazon—capitalizing in part on the city’s leading position in artificial intelligence research. Its proximity to several highly ranked universities was also a plus for hiring purposes, he said.

“Pittsburgh’s emerging presence in technology is catching on across all segments, including law,” McAnney said. “Fragomen is doing what everybody else [in Pittsburgh] is already doing, and we’ve been doing it for a long time.”

Cozen O’Connor opened an office in Pittsburgh this spring, when it brought on several lawyers from Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney.

Jeremy Garvey, who was part of that group, said Pittsburgh is attractive to his firm, and particularly the transactional practices, because of the many emerging middle-market companies born out of the technology boom there.

In its industrial history, Pittsburgh became a place for engineering and making things, Garvey said. But it had to refocus as the economy shifted away from manufacturing.

“Pittsburgh, I would argue, with all deference to other places, was ahead of the curve because it had to be,” Garvey said.

For large firms and their lawyers, it makes sense to have a foothold in the city, to better understand the needs of the clients and potential clients there.

It also makes sense to have access to developers and technologists, Garvey said, as more law firms seek to differentiate themselves with technology, through greater efficiency and client-facing apps and tools.

Neeraj Rajpal, the new chief information officer for K&L Gates, said he was attracted to Pittsburgh for its “growing tech community.” He joined the firm May 1, coming from New York, where he was CIO for Morrison & Foerster. Working for his former firm, “the talent pool was readily available,” he said, and he didn’t want that to change.

Rajpal said he expects more law firms to turn an eye to Pittsburgh for its cheaper real estate and large talent pool.

“I would be surprised if they don’t,” he said. “In my opinion it’s the best of everything.”

More Moves Ahead?

McAnney said other firms have shown an interest in opening a Pittsburgh office, but they’re still looking for the right people. And she said other firms are doing what Fragomen has done by hiring technologists in Pittsburgh, but most already had a law office in the city where those professionals could work.

“Technology has been a part of Pittsburgh legal practices for as long as I can remember,” she said.

K&L Gates has many of its developers and IT staffers in Pittsburgh, Rajpal said, and more than 100 throughout the firm. The firm also has an IT internship program in Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh’s growing tech industry has also been a factor in Reed Smith’s investment in software development, said David Pulice, the firm’s manager of practice innovation. All of Reed Smith’s IT staff and developers are located there, he said, and the firm’s long history in Pittsburgh has given it access to talent and connections in the area.

“You have the intellectual capacity with the universities here and you have a lower cost center,” Pulice said. “If you think about the Silicon Valley … the talent you can acquire and retain in Pittsburgh is going to be a fraction of that cost.”

But even firms not looking to build an in-house technology team can benefit from the city’s “pool of experts,” Pulice said. Reed Smith is one example, he said, citing its work with Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh on artificial intelligence research.

While Pittsburgh is emerging as a potential leader in AI, Pulice noted, the technology has yet to make a real impact on the legal industry.

“A lot of attorneys in-house say, ‘Artificial intelligence is here, why aren’t I using it yet?’” Pulice said. “Usually the technology is not quite there yet.”

Two big questions remain, Pulice said: When will AI become “a true efficiency game changer” in the legal industry, and where will the technology be developed? If it comes out of Pittsburgh, he said, that’s “absolutely” a place firms will want to be.