With a new managing partner in place and nearly three years after absorbing 100 lawyers from now-defunct Dickstein Shapiro, Blank Rome is looking to grow again.
The Philadelphia-based Am Law 100 firm spent the first three weeks of 2019 adding lawyers in highly competitive legal markets. According to managing partner Grant Palmer, much more is to come in New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and possibly Chicago.
“The Dickstein Shapiro group, it’s taken two to three years to integrate them. We are now ready” to expand again, said Palmer in a recent interview. He officially took on his new role Jan. 1, joining chairman Alan Hoffman in leading the firm.
Blank Rome has already added a number of small groups in New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., this year. They include a trio of energy lawyers from Cadwalader, a corporate partner from midsize firm Carlsmith Ball, a transactional partner from DLA Piper, a corporate partner from Baker McKenzie and a two-partner real estate team from Thompson & Knight. The firm also absorbed a small family law practice in Los Angeles, and it is planning to announce additional partner laterals in New York and Pittsburgh in the near future, Palmer said.
While the latest additions are all over the map in terms of geography, practice area and the lawyers’ backgrounds, Palmer said they’re all part of a plan.
Blank Rome is developing its strategy for the next three to five years, Palmer said. The main goal, he said, is to make the firm’s offices across the country “equal to or greater than Philadelphia,” in terms of brand and reputation.
That’s going to require significantly bulking up in those locations, he noted. While many managing partners shy away from stating head count goals, Palmer did not.
The firm has about 150 lawyers in New York, with room for up to 210 when it moves to a new office there June 1, he said. In Washington, D.C., he said, the firm is aiming to take its existing office from 125 attorneys to 175 or 200.
In Los Angeles, Palmer said, he hopes to reach about 100 lawyers—nearly double the current 60—within three to five years. And in the Houston office, where there are about 50 lawyers now, the goal is to have between 75 and 100, he said. Blank Rome may also look to open new offices in other parts of Texas and California, he added.
And there’s one more location where Blank Rome may be poised to grow from scratch: the Midwest, most likely Chicago.
“We’re open to any opportunity in Chicago that we think makes sense for the firm and our clients,” Palmer said. That would preferably involve acquiring an established group, he said, but the firm isn’t entirely opposed to stringing together individuals and smaller groups to build a Chicago office.
In all, Palmer said, Blank Rome will need to be about 800 to 1,000 lawyers in the next five years to reach its goals, up from about 600 today.
Asked whether Blank Rome would complete another combination like the one it did with Dickstein Shapiro, Palmer said it’s not impossible, but noted “that was a unique opportunity. It’s unusual to find a group that talented all looking for a new firm.” Still, he said, bringing on another group of similar size wouldn’t be a problem, but a merger of equals is highly unlikely.
Aside from geography and size, the firm will spend the next year determining which industries will be central to its vision, he said. Its banking and finance, real estate and maritime practices serve as models, Palmer said, as Blank Rome works toward shaping its business around industry groups.
“It’s not something we haven’t been doing,” he said, with regard to organizing by targeted industries. “But I don’t think there’s been enough focus on it.”
Focused on Philadelphia, But ‘Not a Philadelphia Firm’
It’s not as though Blank Rome’s national expansion is just now beginning. The firm has 13 offices and was ranked 80th on the National Law Journal’s 2018 ranking of the 500 largest law firms by head count.
“When I joined this law firm in 1990, it was a Philadelphia law firm,” Palmer said. But now, he contends, “This is no longer [just] a Philadelphia law firm.”
Still, it faces stiff competition in the cities where it’s targeting growth, which also happen to be the four cities with the largest lawyer populations, according to the NLJ 500.
Among the Am Law 200 firms founded in Pennsylvania, Blank Rome is not alone in looking outside the state for growth opportunities. In recent years, for instance, firms like Ballard Spahr, Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr and Fox Rothschild have pursued growth beyond state lines through mergers in the Midwest and the Southeast.
At the same time, large firms based outside of Pennsylvania have taken an interest in the market, often luring large groups from native firms. They include Holland & Knight, Armstrong Teasdale, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld and Lewis Brisbois, all of which added groups in Philadelphia within the past year.
Despite its goals in other markets, Palmer said Blank Rome will not abandon its focus on Philadelphia.
He noted that other Philadelphia-born firms have built their brands nationally while maintaining a strong base in Philadelphia, using Morgan Lewis & Bockius as an example. Firms that have integrated their national presence successfully appointed leaders in their non-Philadelphia offices, he said.
“There is not a lot of room for additional growth in the Philadelphia market,” he said. But the group of core partners in Philadelphia “value our investing in New York and other markets because it’s good for their clients.”