Benjamin Franklin bridge in Philadelphia.

Just as industry watchers hinted it would, interest in the Philadelphia market from non-native firms has continued, as shown by several moves in recent weeks.

Law firms that already had established offices in the area have bulked up their presence with recent hires, making targeted acquisitions focused on practice rather than geography.

Just this week, Florida-based Holland & Knight brought on another Philadelphia partner, bringing its head count in the city to 40 about half a year after the firm’s Philadelphia office opened. While that office was founded by a group of lawyers from Reed Smith’s Philadelphia location, this latest hire comes from another globally minded firm, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius.

Earlier this month, Los Angeles-based Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith took a group of eight Philadelphia litigators from Segal McCambridge Singer & Mahoney, which is based in Chicago. Lewis Brisbois also recently added two former prosecutors to its Philadelphia office.

And last month, Boston-based Campbell Campbell Edwards & Conroy, now known as Campbell Conroy & O’Neil, added to its Philadelphia practice with new name partner Joe O’Neil and five other lawyers.

Other out-of-state firms that made hires in Pennsylvania last year included Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, Armstrong Teasdale and Milber Makris Plousadis & Seiden.

‘The Better Question’

Eric Seeger.

Eric Seeger, of Altman Weil, said Philadelphia has a reputation for being “mature and overlawyered.”

According to Barbarians at the Gate, a 2018 report by ALM Intelligence, Philadelphia was among the top 10 cities for lateral moves and office openings from 2001 to 2017. But the amount of movement in the city was slow compared to locations like Houston and San Francisco. There were 917 lateral moves and 25 offices opened in that time.

But now, compared to 10 or 15 years ago, firms are more interested in finding and hiring lawyers with a desired expertise, wherever they may be, Seeger said.

“‘Is this a good market to be in?’ is often the wrong question,” he said. “The better question is do we have a high probability assurance of work in that market from existing clients, or can we acquire high quality laterals in that market with a high level of confidence that their clients will come with them.”

At the same time, Seeger said, the stigma around making a lateral move that may have once existed has diminished. And moves beget more moves.

“When there are high-profile acquisitions and new firms being formed, it just raises awareness of those options as possibilities,” Seeger said.

And some lawyers have watched their firm’s strategy change drastically from when they joined, particularly as some firms founded in Pennsylvania grew into national, international and global businesses.

William Delany, for instance, who just moved from Morgan Lewis to Holland & Knight, said his national practice wasn’t in need of the global expansion Morgan Lewis has been working toward. His new colleagues, who came from Reed Smith, made similar remarks about their decision to move.

Others have sought a larger platform. Walter “Pete” Swayze III, who led the group from Segal McCambridge to Lewis Brisbois, said access to a national presence has become increasingly important to litigators. “When you have organic talent all over the country, clients can rely on point people who are familiar with the litigation,” he said.

National Strategy

Local firms are similarly looking to spread their reach.

While Pennsylvania-based firms haven’t entirely neglected their home town as a growth spot—Cozen O’Connor, Ballard Spahr, Blank Rome and Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney each brought on a partner in Philadelphia or Pittsburgh this month—many of them have been focused on growth outside the state.

Pepper Hamilton acknowledged this month that it is opening an office in Rochester, New York, bringing on a group of IP lawyers from LeClairRyan.

Blank Rome recently made additions in New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., and is plotting an entrance into the Midwest. And Ballard Spahr, which recently brought on a government relations group in Washington, D.C., is also looking to continue growth in the Midwest, after merging with a midsize Minneapolis firm last year.

As those two firms look to fill out their footprints between the coasts, their leaders have made clear that they see their practices as national. Ballard Spahr’s new business and finance practice chair, Peter Michaud, said his own appointment is proof “that our firm really is a national firm.”

Or, as Blank Rome managing partner Grant Palmer put it, “This is no longer [just] a Philadelphia law firm.”

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Ballard Spahr’s business and finance practice chair.

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