Making a definitive move away from its former status as a litigation-only firm and sending a signal that it’s in regional-expansion mode, Houston’s Beirne, Maynard & Parsons has combined with New Orleans-based Lemle & Kelleher.

The combination, effective Jan. 1, creates an 80-lawyer firm with offices in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Lemle & Kelleher brought 19 lawyers, plus offices in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, to the combination.

Brit Brown, managing partner of Beirne Maynard, says the talks with Lemle & Kelleher began several months ago. Louisiana isn’t a new market for Beirne Maynard; the firm had lawyers based in New Orleans until recently, when Paul Lavelle left in October 2012 to become managing shareholder of Winstead’s new office in New Orleans. At that time, Brown said Beirne Maynard would re-staff and maintain an office in New Orleans.

“We definitely needed the presence in New Orleans. We are expecting to expand and grow the office already,” Brown says.

Beirne Maynard, which until recently focused mainly on litigation, beefed up its transactional capabilities in the combination, with the addition of Lemle Kelleher’s commercial transactions, securities and white-collar defense practices.

Benjamin Slater III, former chairman of Lemle Kelleher who is now managing partner of the Beirne Maynard New Orleans office, notes that Lemle Kelleher also brings a strong team of litigators to the table.

“We’ve a lot of common interests. We have historically been an oil and gas firm as well as an admiralty firm. . .,” Slater says. “We just saw it as a great opportunity to expand our operations over in Texas and service our clients over there [because] so many of the oil and gas companies and service companies that were headquartered in New Orleans have moved over to Houston, particularly since Hurricane Katrina.”

Slater says the clients of the Lemle Kelleher firm include Capital One Bank Co., Canadian National Railway Co., Norfolk Southern Railway Co., and Camp Dresser & McKee Inc.

Martin Beirne, chairman of Beirne Maynard, says a New Orleans office is an important cog in his firm’s plan to expand its regional reach along the Gulf Coast.

“Long range, it’s very essential. The firm’s strategic move is to move along the Gulf Coast, principally on the energy side. New Orleans helps complement that,” he says, noting that it’s “no secret” the firm intends to open other offices along the Gulf Coast.

He says there’s little overlap of clients between his firm and Lemle Kelleher, so cross-selling opportunities are considerable.

Despite Beirne Maynard’s previous status as a primarily litigation firm, it gradually has added a few transactional lawyers. Marcos Ronquillo, former managing shareholder of Godwin Ronquillo of Dallas, joined the firm in November 2011 as a partner in Dallas along with three other lawyers. Ronquillo leads Beirne Maynard’s international practice group.

Back in 1997, Beirne Maynard and Bell & Murphy, another Houston litigation boutique, agreed to merge in a combination, creating a 65-lawyer firm that was then the largest litigation specialty firm in Texas.

But since then, Beirne says, the litigation-only status has been a “topic of discussion for many, many years.”

He says the firm will continue to grow its litigation practice, but there are “complementary practices that go along with that” such as commercial transactions, real estate and banking.