Law firms with their largest office in Pennsylvania saw their firmwide head counts remain relatively steady this year, according to The National Law Journal’s NLJ 500. But a closer look offers a more complicated story about the Pennsylvania legal market.
Among the 500 largest law firms in the United States, 34 have their biggest office in Pennsylvania. That’s not including several firms that were founded in the Keystone State but have grown larger in other locations. At the 34 Pennsylvania-centered firms, total firmwide head count barely changed, decreasing by 0.3 percent to 10,010.
On an individual basis, these firms showed more change—led by regional firm Dilworth Paxson, which increased head count by nearly 20 percent. The Philadelphia-based firm went from 91 lawyers in 2016 to 109 in 2017.
Firm CEO Ajay Raju said the head count growth was the result of additions in the Princeton, New Jersey, region and South Jersey, in reaction to client need in the pharma and biotech sectors, as well as environmental and real estate. He emphasized, however, “we don’t just add lawyers for the sake of adding lawyers.”
One Philadelphia-headquartered firm, Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr, saw even greater growth thanks to an out-of-state merger, but now has its largest office in Chicago.
Here are four other takeaways about the Pennsylvania legal market from this year’s NLJ 500:
Phila. Is Hot for This Baltimore-Born Firm
The list of firms with their largest office in Pennsylvania had a new entrant this year: Offit Kurman. The midsize firm of 144 lawyers was founded in Baltimore but now has 33 lawyers in Philadelphia, while its next largest office, in Bethesda, Maryland, has 29.
Firm chairman Ted Offit previewed the shift two years ago, telling The Legal Intelligencer in 2016 that when the firm set out on a regional expansion plan, “there was no reason Philadelphia could not be our largest market.”
“We have worked very hard on our regional expansion plan in each of our markets from New York to Virginia,” firm spokesman Bryan Lawson said. “The Philadelphia market has been especially active, where the Philly region has become our largest.”
The firm has a total of 35 lawyers in Pennsylvania, thanks to a small presence in Harrisburg and Allentown as well. But on a statewide basis, it still has the greatest representation in Maryland, where 77 lawyers are based.
Lawson said Offit Kurman will continue to grow through attorney hires and law firm affiliations. So far this year, it has focused its bigger moves on New York, where it affiliated with one firm, and has brought on several lawyers from another closing firm.
Big Law Grew Outside Pennsylvania
Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, Reed Smith, Dechert and Saul Ewing, while founded in Pennsylvania, have their largest offices outside the state—Morgan Lewis in Washington D.C.; Reed Smith and Dechert in New York; and Saul Ewing in Chicago.
Saul Ewing is new to that list after merging with Chicago-based Arnstein & Lehr in September, creating a 375-lawyer firm.
Also because of that merger, Saul Ewing shot up the ranks of the NLJ 500, from 171 to 112. It had the greatest growth in head count by percentage, growing by 48.8 percent, and had the third-highest number of total lawyer additions, at 123 (outdone only by Big Law behemoths Kirland & Ellis and Latham & Watkins, which added 238 and 156 lawyers, respectively).
Other large Pennsylvania-founded firms focused much of their head count growth in 2017 on out-of-state markets.
Ballard Spahr acquired media law firm Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz, adding lawyers in Washington, D.C., and New York, and it opened a small office in Boulder, Colorado, earlier in the year. Ballard Spahr also announced a merger with Minneapolis-based Lindquist & Vennum in 2017, but it did not become official until the beginning of this year.
Three Midsize Litigation Firms Shrank
Three litigation-heavy firms in the state saw their attorney head counts shrink by a handful of lawyers or more—but perhaps not for long.
Pittsburgh-based Cipriani & Werner shrank by 10.3 percent, to 122 lawyers. Margolis Edelstein, whose largest office is in Philadelphia, contracted by 12.7 percent, to 96 lawyers. And Kessler Topaz Meltzer & Check had 7.9 percent fewer lawyers than last year, at 93 total.
However, Cipriani & Werner CEO Jack Kincaid said his firm has been growing in number more recently. Christopher Tinari, a partner at Margolis Edelstein, said his firm experienced some retirements last year and has made a number of hires recently, with more on the horizon.
Those three firms weren’t alone. Of the 34 firms whose largest office is in Pennsylvania, 13 saw head count decrease. Another six saw no change in either direction.
The one other firm that shrank by more than 7 percent was Pepper Hamilton, which came in at 450 lawyers in 2017. In an interview in February, firm chairman Tom Gallagher said a number of departures early in 2017 did not have an impact on the firm’s finances, noting a growth in profits. The firm also placed an emphasis on improving its recruitment process in 2017, hiring a chief talent officer and chief lateral recruitment officer.
And the Big Got Bigger
K&L Gates is the largest Pennsylvania-based firm on the 2018 NLJ 500 list, by a long shot, with 1,810 lawyers. Of those, 175 are based in Pittsburgh, the firm’s largest office. It is the 12th largest firm in the NLJ 500. While it topped the list of Pennsylvania firms, K&L Gates experienced head count decline of just under 1 percent, coming down to 1,793.
Fox Rothschild is the largest Philadelphia-based firm in the group, with 743 lawyers, coming in at No. 55 on the NLJ 500. The firm experienced considerable head count growth in 2017, increasing its lawyer ranks by 6.6 percent.
Cozen O’Connor also experienced notable growth of 8.5 percent, jumping to 611 lawyers and a No. 76 ranking on the NLJ 500.
Along with Saul Ewing, Morgan Lewis was among the top 10 law firms for total lawyer head count. The firm added 99 lawyers from 2016 to 2017, reaching a firmwide head count of 1,943 lawyers.