For the most part, large Pennsylvania law firms kept their proverbial heads down as they tried to plow through what they hoped would be a stabilizing, if not improving, 2010.

The constant news of layoffs or salary decreases subsided, but they haven’t yet been replaced by continual news of law firm mergers or big acquisitions. The beginning of 2010 started off with a flurry of lateral acquisitions after 2009 showed almost none. But that activity didn’t quite carry throughout the year.

As 2010 comes to a close, mergers are again a part of strategic planning and law firms’ stalled corporate practices are said to show more signs of life. The question many of the attorneys in that sector raise, however, is whether deals will continue into the new year.

Although there seems to have been steady improvement across core practice areas, billable hours and in some cases hiring, there is little in the way of new or growing revenue streams to be found in the foreseeable future. That has some consultants suggesting firms need to cut even more staff, attorneys and costs. Efficiency remains the buzz word and that may mean using more technology in place of people as well as implementing project management when it comes to how matters are staffed and run.

Whether The Legal talks to in-house counsel, law firm leaders or consultants, it seems the shift in the law firm business model is happening — but how fast and what the end picture will look like are still unanswered questions.

That doesn’t mean law firms simply sat around waiting for these answers, with several making news in 2010.

This is New Territory

Several firms opened new offices in the past year, both abroad and domestically.

K&L Gates started off the year with new offices in both Moscow and Tokyo.

Blank Rome, which continued to build out its year-old Los Angeles office through lateral acquisitions, also added a new partner in Texas. While the addition of former LyondellBissel Associate General Counsel Joseph Speelman wasn’t an official office opening in the Lone Star State, it did signal the firm’s continued commitment to one day having a broader presence there.

Morgan Lewis & Bockius officially opened a Wilmington, Del., office in June months after it added the former U.S. attorney for that state, Colm Connolly. He had practiced out of the firm’s Philadelphia office since joining and said at the time he came on board that the firm would contemplate formally creating a Delaware presence.

Also in June, Dechert announced it would open a Dublin, Ireland, office the following month, becoming at the time the only Am Law 100 firm to be in the Emerald Isle.

Fox Rothschild opened a Washington, D.C., office in November with the addition of three Dilworth Paxson attorneys.

Ballard Spahr added a San Diego office in November with the addition of the litigation and white-collar defense boutique La Bella & McNamara.

While some firms were opening offices, White & Williams confirmed in October that it would close its five-lawyer Pittsburgh office, most likely by the end of the year.

Mini-Mergers

Though large-scale mergers of law firms subsided during the recession, Pennsylvania firms kept active in that realm through the acquisition of small boutiques or by creating joint ventures.

Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin kicked off 2010 with the addition of nine, or just about all, of the lawyers from maritime litigation boutique McDermott & Radzik in New York.

In July, Saul Ewing acquired Maryland-based gaming law boutique Ruben & Aronson. Later that month, Cozen O’Connor added 15 attorneys and government relations professionals with the acquisition of Washington, D.C.-based Sher & Blackwell.

In August, Fox Rothschild added the bulk of New Jersey-based tax and estates boutique Deener Hirsch & Shramenko.

Duane Morris expanded its existing presence in Singapore in October through its joint venture with Singapore-based Arfat Selvam Alliance. Later that month, Stevens & Lee announced that it, along with its subsidiary Griffin Financial Group, would team up with an insurance consultant to create another joint venture, Griffin Risk Capital Partners.

Earlier this month, Drinker Biddle & Reath picked up six-attorney litigation and labor and employment boutique Eisenberg Raizman Thurston & Wong in Los Angeles.

In terms of a new firm, Mark Momjian and Stephen Anderer left Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis’ family law practice to create their own firm in that area, Momjian Anderer.

Some firms went the route of lateral group acquisitions. Reed Smith added seven attorneys and seven staffers from Pepper Hamilton’s Pittsburgh office, led by real estate partner Dusty Kirk. Reed Smith later picked up Pepper Hamilton attorneys Chuck Greenberg and Kristin Wells shortly after Greenberg became CEO of the Texas Rangers.

Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney lost nine health care attorneys in Tampa to Carlton Fields in November. Firm CEO John A. “Jack” Barbour said in a statement it was “a decision I made” and said later in an interview that he was still “bullish” on growth across the firm’s three Florida offices.

Three intellectual property litigators, Dianne Elderkin, Barbara Mullin and Steven Maslowski, left Woodcock Washburn for the Philadelphia office of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in February. Three other Woodcock Washburn attorneys followed them a few weeks later.

Though not a large group move, Marshall Dennehey’s October hire of Vaira & Riley attorney Jack Gruenstein added a white-collar defense practice to the firm.

Reed Smith confirmed in October that it was in merger talks with Dallas-based Thompson & Knight, which would be the first large-scale merger for a Pennsylvania firm in some time.LeadersHip Shakeups

Two of Philadelphia’s largest law firms with longtime leaders who had a big presence in their firms announced succession plans for 2011.

In May, Ballard Spahr confirmed that Chairman Arthur Makadon would hand over the reins to strategic partner Mark Stewart by mid-2011. The following month, Dechert announced Chairman Barton J. Winokur was stepping down at some point in 2011. Two attorneys will take his place. Philadelphia-based corporate partner Daniel O’Donnell will serve as CEO and New York-based litigator Andrew Levander will serve as chairman.

Both Makadon and Winokur plan to go back to the full-time practice of law at their respective firms.

Law firms weren’t the only ones to have leadership transitions.

In January, Penn State University announced it was creating its first ever office of general counsel. The school hired former Pennsylvania Supreme Court interim Justice and then-Duane Morris partner Cynthia Baldwin to set up the new office and serve as general counsel while the university did a nationwide search for a permanent GC.

The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia named Roosevelt Hairston Jr. as its new general counsel in March. He replaced Bonnie Brier, who left to serve as the GC of the board of trustees of New York University.

In June, PPG Industries named Glenn E. Bost II to replace its retiring general counsel, James Diggs. The following month, Toll Brothers named John K. McDonald as its new general counsel, replacing Mark Kessler.

Longtime Dechert partner David Howard left Dechert in July and moved to California to serve as deputy general counsel in charge of Microsoft’s litigation.

In terms of law school leadership, Ken Gormley was named permanently to the post of dean of Duquesne University School of Law after serving in an interim capacity for nearly a year.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in May named Debra M. Lawrence as the new regional attorney for the Philadelphia district.

Other Notables

• After stepping down as the longtime district attorney in Philadelphia, Lynne Abraham joined Archer & Greiner in January.

• Drinker Biddle & Reath created a chief value officer role, the first of its kind among Am Law 100 firms.

• Cravath Swaine & Moore agreed to represent the city of Harrisburg as it decides whether to either file a Chapter 9 bankruptcy or proceed as an economically distressed city under the state’s Act 47. The firm agreed to represent the city pro bono.

• After flirting with the idea of moving to a competency-based advancement system, Morgan Lewis decided to keep lockstep base-pay and merit-based bonuses.

• Dechert put all of its attorneys through project management training. •