Smith Gambrell & Russell is expanding its national footprint to the West Coast.
The firm is merging with an 11-lawyer Los Angeles business law boutique, Rodi Pollock Pettker Christian & Pramov, effective Jan. 1, 2018, adding a location that will serve as a gateway to Asia for the Atlanta-based Am Law 200 firm.
“It really is a play for our clients in Asia,” said Smith Gambrell’s chair, Stephen Forte, explaining that Asian companies want their law firms to be in California. “It is a way for them to connect with us through a West Coast office and for us to be able to interact regularly with them in a place where they do business.”
Smith Gambrell has a roster of clients in Japan and Korea, including Kia Motors and Kumho Tire, which it would like to grow, he added.
The L.A. expansion follows Smith Gambrell’s venture into Europe this year. In January it opened U.K. offices in London and Southampton to expand its marquee aviation finance practice beyond the United States, as well as a Munich office to support its long-standing practice serving German companies for inbound transactional work.
“California is a huge legal market,” Forte said, adding that it’s a key location for a firm with aspirations to having a truly national practice.
“When you can set up with New York on one end and Los Angeles on the other, with points in between including European offices, you’re where your clients need you to be,” Forte said.
The L.A. location will be Smith Gambrell’s ninth office, including locations in New York, Washington, Jacksonville, Florida, and the U.K.
The roughly 225-lawyer firm grossed $97.5 million in 2016, placing it at No. 196 in the Am Law 200 list, with average profit per partner of $625,000.
It will add the L.A. office as it marks its 125th anniversary in 2018.
Smith Gambrell will build its West Coast presence as it has done in New York, Forte said. The firm opened in New York in 2008 with five lawyers and has grown its office there to 45 lawyers.
It added 10 lawyers in New York this year by acquiring a boutique, Balber Pickard Maldonado & Van Der Tuin, plus an additional three transactional lawyers from the New York office of U.K. firm Withers.
Forte said his firm had been looking for the “right group” in L.A.
“The Rodi Pollock firm is a known entity with deep roots in Los Angeles—they were founded in the late 60s—and they have a broad transactional practice, which makes them a good play for us,” he said.
Rodi Pollock serves a mix of businesses and individuals. “They have a middle-market practice, which is a sweet spot for a firm like ours,” Forte said. “They can do the M&A transactions, real estate, tax and trusts and estates. If you can do those, you can do what most businesses need, whatever their shape and size.”
“Timing matters,” he added. “I think they were ready to consider a combination with us.”
All 11 of Rodi Pollock’s lawyers are making the move.
“We are very pleased to continue our firm’s legacy as the newest office of SGR,” said Rodi Pollock’s president, Patrick Cain, in a statement.
Five Rodi Pollock lawyers are joining Smith Gambrell as partners: Cain, Anne Edwards, Elizabeth Blakely, Henry Pramov Jr. and Walter Killmer Jr. Joining as counsel are: Robert Norton, John Pettker, Dominique Tauzin and Robert Yahiro. Gregory Sidman is an associate and Gregg Rapoport is of counsel.
This story has been updated to clarify the status of the Rodi Pollock lawyers joining Smith Gambrell.