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Intellectual property boutique Novak Druce Connolly Bove + Quigg has expanded into Philadelphia, opening the Houston-based firm’s ninth office.

Alfred Zaher, formerly a partner in Blank Rome in Philadelphia, joined Novak Druce to head the new office. He is joined by partner Shawn Li, who came from Dilworth Paxson. Zaher said he and Li formerly worked together at Blank Rome.

Tracy Druce, a co-executive partner in the firm, said a Philadelphia office and the new hires fit into the firm’s strategic plan by providing support for the firm’s pharmaceutical practice focused in the Wilmington office, and the biotechnology practice in the Wilmington and Boston offices.

“Alfred really fits in perfectly in helping us grow there,” Druce said.

The move might be considered somewhat surprising because the firm’s nearby Wilmington office has struggled since the January 2013 merger between Delaware-based Connolly Bove Lodge & Hutz and Houston’s Novak Druce + Quigg. The Wilmington office has been plagued with departures, leaving the firm with only 11 attorneys and four partners in Delaware.

“Some firms will say that you hire good lawyers wherever you find them,” said Robert Nourian, managing principal of legal recruiter Coleman Nourian. “I don’t know if that is the case here, because, on its face, the firm is nearby in Wilmington and they have had struggles in that office.”

Since the spring, 12 attorneys, including seven partners, have left Novak Druce for Drinker Biddle & Reath’s Wilmington office. In April, partners Ashley I. Pezzner and his father, Hal Pezzner, joined Drinker Biddle along with Hui-Ju Wu, Geoffrey Zelley, Daniel Rube, Claudia Schultze and Larry Williams. One month later, Francis DiGiovanni, Jeffrey Eichen, M. Curt Lambert, Zhun Lu and Keith A. Walter Jr. were reunited with their former Novak Druce colleagues at Drinker Biddle.

Patricia S. Rogowski left the firm in February after 26 years at Connolly Bove to lead Philadelphia-based Panitch Schwarze Belisario & Nadel’s expansion into Delaware. Other notable departures over the past two years include Thomas McWilliams, Edward “Ted” Behm, Michael Berman and Jefferson Cheatham, who joined Barnes & Thornburg in late 2012. Mary Bourke joined Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice in October 2012 and brought four former Connolly Bove attorneys to her new firm. Chad Stover joined Barnes & Thornburg in October 2013.

Jeff Bove, senior partner in the firm’s Wilmington office, declined to comment on what the Philadelphia expansion could mean for the Wilmington office.

“I am very excited about having a Philadelphia office,” he said.

Nourian said the size difference between Wilmington and Philadelphia could have played a role in the firm’s decision to enter Philadelphia.

“Wilmington is a very small market,” he said. “It could be that IP lawyers in Philadelphia don’t want to travel to Wilmington so Novak Druce might have a better opportunity to recruit and have a critical mass in Philadelphia.”

Despite the Wilmington departures, the firm is having a breakout year nationally. It still has roughly 120 attorneys nationwide, making it one of the 10 largest intellectual property firms in the country. It ranked on Legal affiliate The National Law Journal’s NLJ 350 list, a national ranking by head count, and on the Legal Times 150, a head count ranking in the D.C. market, this year.

Earlier this summer, managing partner and CEO Gregory Novak told The National Law Journal he was pleased with the latitude the combined firms brought to the practice—from a strong presence along California’s blossoming tech scene to having roots in Delaware, where the district court is active in patent law.

While Novak noted “client demand is heavy,” not all IP firms have plumped their businesses recently. For instance, two large intellectual property firms on the Am Law 100, Fish & Richardson and Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, both sunk by about 10 percent in revenue in 2013.

Novak Druce is just one of several out-of-state firms to open in the Philadelphia region in recent years. In April, Atlanta-based litigation firm Freeman Mathis & Gary opened new Philadelphia and New Jersey offices with four Spector Gadon & Rosen lawyers.

The list of out-of-state firms opening Philadelphia offices in recent years also includes Detroit-based Clark Hill, Cleveland-based Baker & Hostetler, Kansas City, Mo.-based Shook, Hardy & Bacon, Los Angeles-based Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, San Francisco-based Gordon & Rees, Cincinnati-based Dinsmore & Shohl and New Jersey-based Carroll McNulty & Kull.

Recruiter Frank D’Amore said in an April interview that many of the national firms that have opened in the Philadelphia region have done so in an effort to “fill a hole in their geographic footprints.”

“A lot of times firms’ expansion efforts are driven by what their clients’ needs are,” D’Amore said. “They want to be able to say, ‘We have troops on the ground everywhere in the country.’ If they don’t have [a presence] in Philadelphia—a top 10 market—they have a hole.”

Novak Druce’s Philadelphia office is expected to boost the firm’s Asia-Pacific practice. Novak Druce represents U.S. and multinational companies in China and works closely with Chinese government officials to curb infringement and secure patent and trademark protection in China.

Zaher does work in the biotech, pharmaceutical, electronics and software industries, but has also developed a China practice, helping clients develop trademark management systems, among many things. Li, a native of China, also does work in China, Zaher said.

The firm plans to add at least two lawyers in Philadelphia by the end of the year, Zaher said. He added that he was attracted to Novak Druce’s deep and broad IP practice to help him meet his clients’ needs.

“One or two of my clients told me they were concerned about the bandwidth at my prior firm and that was simply because we didn’t have enough people,” he said. “I don’t have that problem now.”

Zaher said his clients include ABB, a Swiss technology company; Medical Components Inc. of Harleysville, Pa.; and Casella Wines, the Australian company that makes Yellow Tail wines. In Texas, he represents HART Communication Foundation of Austin.

A Blank Rome spokesperson said the firm wishes Zaher well in the next phase of his career.

This article first appeared in The Legal Intelligencer, a Delaware Law Weekly sibling publication.

Katelyn Polantz of The National Law Journal, a DLW affiliate based in New York, contributed to this report.

Brenda Sapino Jeffreys is a reporter for Texas Lawyer, a DLW affiliate. 

Jeff Mordock can be contacted at 215-557-2485 or jmordock@alm.com. Follow him on Twitter @JeffMordockTLI.