Clark Hill has bulked up its public finance group in Pennsylvania, adding lawyers to the practice on both sides of the Keystone State.
Philadelphia lawyer Michael Barnes joined Clark Hill as a member, the firm’s designation for partner-level lawyers, from Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr. And in Pittsburgh, Andrew Maher joined as senior counsel from Cohen & Grigsby, where he had been a director.
The two lawyers are good friends, Barnes said, but they joined the firm simultaneously by coincidence. Lisa Chiesa, a Pittsburgh member who leads the firm’s public finance practice, said Clark Hill first reached out to Maher in hopes of building the Pittsburgh practice. Then Barnes contacted the firm as well, she said, which created an opportunity to expand the practice across the state.
“We have really good relationships with banks here in Pittsburgh, but we’ve been trying to get into Philadelphia,” Chiesa said. “This is going to be a big boon to that.”
Barnes said he joined Clark Hill for the opportunity to expand his work with financial institutions. Representing lenders is “a major part of their public finance group,” he said. While Clark Hill has been in Philadelphia for several years, he said, the firm did not have public finance lawyers based there.
“To be able to have folks that represent lenders and underwriters, bond issuers and borrowers, it makes you a much more well-rounded group,” Barnes said. “It’s a tough area to dabble in because it’s an area of the law that’s changing rapidly, and there’s significant risk on the line.”
In addition to serving existing Clark Hill clients like PNC Bank and TD Bank, where Barnes said he also has relationships with Philadelphia bankers in multiple sectors, Barnes said he expects to bring work from “a significant percentage” of his client base with him to his new firm.
He said his clients include the Delaware Municipal Electric Corp., which he is representing as co-bond counsel with Saul Ewing in an infrastructure financing deal valued at $15 million. He also represents Natixis Funding Corp., a relationship he said he expects to continue while Saul Ewing may keep some work, and Wesley Enhanced Living, for which Barnes is handling tax-exempt financings.
Maher, in Pittsburgh, was part of Cohen & Grigsby’s real estate and public finance practice. He works as bond counsel and special counsel for school districts, municipalities, universities, municipal authorities, state agencies, counties, health care systems and other governmental and nonprofit entities.
He said he joined Clark Hill because the firm was growing its public finance group, and he wanted to be a part of that. He also said he was drawn to “the opportunity to do more interesting work in more places,” noting that his practice is statewide. Among Maher’s clients is the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh, he said.
Chiesa said the public finance practice is worth growing because the work “is never going to go away.”
“Anyone driving down the street can see there’s a lot of public money that needs to be spent, and the way to do that is financing,” she said.
Clark Hill entered the Pennsylvania legal market in 2013, when it added about 100 lawyers by merging with Pittsburgh-based Thorp Reed & Armstrong. The firm now has about two dozen lawyers in its Philadelphia office and over 60 in Pittsburgh, according to its website.
At more than 600 lawyers, Clark Hill has completed other significant mergers since its combination with Thorp Reed. In 2017, it brought on about 100 lawyers from Los Angeles-based Morris Polich & Purdy. And last year, it combined with Texas firm Strasburger & Price, which brought about 200 lawyers in Texas, New York, Washington, D.C., and Mexico City.
While the 17-lawyer public finance practice is concentrated in Pennsylvania—with seven of its lawyers in Pittsburgh and now one in Philadelphia—as well as Chicago, Washington and Princeton, New Jersey, Chiesa said the recent mergers have added to the practice.
“We have folks that are not necessarily public finance lawyers, but have connections with governments or served as office holders in various states, and that’s helping us too,” she said.
Saul Ewing and Cohen & Grigsby did not respond to requests for comment Monday.