The Pennsylvania lateral market was far from robust in 2010, making the compilation of 10 prominent moves somewhat of a difficult task. But no matter how few and far between they are, there are always some standouts among the lateral crowd, and 2010 was no different in that regard.

Firms were particularly selective in their hires during the recession, not wanting to risk an investment they couldn’t be sure would pay off and not always sure the interviewees’ books of business were what they used to be before the economy went south. Other firms looked at the recession as an opportunity to gain strength and pick off partners who were perhaps unsatisfied with how their firms weathered the financial storm.

By far the firm most aggressive in its lateral hiring in Pennsylvania last year was Reed Smith. The firm added a number of partners and associates, mainly in Pittsburgh with a few in Philadelphia. The firm drew from competitor firms as well as in-house legal departments and ended up capturing three of the top 10 spots on this year’s list, with a fourth involving a partner that left the firm for a large client — not usually a terrible thing.

While Reed Smith moves comprise the biggest portion of the list, however, it was an out-of-state firm with a local presence that caps off this year’s Top Lateral Hires.

The Elderkin Group

In February 2010, Woodcock Washburn partners Dianne Elderkin, Barbara Mullin and Steve Maslowski left the firm to join the Philadelphia office of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. Elderkin was a few months off of leading the team that helped client Johnson & Johnson win a then-record-breaking $1.67 billion patent infringement verdict and counted the company as a client when switching firms. The group’s book of business was said to be in the eight-figure range. Prior to her departure, Elderkin was the chairwoman of Woodcock Washburn’s litigation practice services group.

Shortly after the trio joined Akin Gump, three other Woodcock Washburn lawyers followed them over: Counsel Angela Verrecchio and Matthew A. Pearson and associate Rubén H. Muñoz.

Aside from the book of business the group brought to Akin Gump, it also built up the firm’s profile in Philadelphia after it had lost several attorneys two years prior. Akin Gump saw its Philadelphia office and intellectual property practice diminished in January 2008 when Ronald L. Panitch left to restart a boutique practice with the team he brought to the firm a decade prior.

At the time of the move, recruiters said it was a good move for Akin Gump and one that would probably negatively impact Woodcock Washburn.

In calling around to sources within the legal community when compiling this year’s list, Elderkin and her group were consistently the first mentioned as the biggest move of 2010.

Dusty Kirk Seven-Lawyer Team

The biggest lateral move in the Steel City in the last few years was easily that of Dusty Elias Kirk and the six lawyers and seven staffers she took with her from Pepper Hamilton to Reed Smith in May.

Joining Kirk were attorneys Sharon F. DiPaolo, Jeffrey A. Mills, Alan K. Sable, Peter L. Kogan, Paul Didomenico and Jeffrey G. Wilhelm. The departure of the real estate group left a big gap in Pepper Hamilton’s well-established Pittsburgh outpost and was the start of a few other defections from that office. One month after Kirk’s group made the move, Pepper Hamilton associate Sean P. Delaney joined them.

Kirk was a former Pepper Hamilton executive committee member and former head of its real estate department. Kirk said at the time of her move that joining Reed Smith would give her group more of an international platform along with the chance to work with the firm’s state tax and insurance recovery practices.

Reed Smith said at the time that it was looking to add to its Pittsburgh office groups of lateral lawyers that had national practices that would benefit from Reed Smith’s international reach. The firm said Kirk’s group fit that mold.

(Photo: The Dusty Kirk Group (Top row, from left: Sean Delaney and Jeffrey Mills. Middle row: Paul Didomenico, Peter Kogan and Alan Sable. Bottom row: Jeffrey Wilhelm, Dusty Elias Kirk and Sharon DiPaolo.) Photo by Laura Mares

David M. Howard, who had served as the co-chairman of Dechert’s 130- lawyer white-collar and securities litigation group, left the firm in July and moved to the Redmond, Wash., area to take over as corporate vice president and deputy general counsel in charge of litigation at Microsoft Corp.

Microsoft. Head of litigation. Need we say more?

While losing a longtime partner like Howard would sometimes be seen as a negative for a law firm, losing him to a large client is viewed as a plus, given the potential for more work to go the firm’s way. People who spoke to The Legal about the move said it was a “win-win” for all involved.

Howard was well entrenched at Dechert. He had developed a busy litigation practice since rejoining the firm in 1995 from government service and worked closely with Chairman Barton J. Winokur on strategic initiatives for the firm. As co-chairman of the white-collar and securities litigation group, he oversaw attorneys working in those areas, as well as general commercial litigation and international arbitration.

Richard Jaffe

Richard P. Jaffe’s move from Ballard Spahr to Duane Morris last September was one of those moves that just seemed to make sense on the list. His name has been well known in the Philadelphia legal community for some time.

While transactional work had slowed during the recession and not many attorneys in that area made big moves, Jaffe’s departure seemed to be the start of several lateral moves in the corporate realm. Jaffe’s practice focuses on private equity and mergers and acquisitions, as well as venture capital and corporate governance work for middle-market clients.

Duane Morris said at the time that Jaffe’s addition gave the firm an opportunity to become a national leader in middle market private equity, an area it said it believed was about to heat up.

“I think Richard has developed a strong reputation over the years as one of the region’s leading venture capital, private equity and technology lawyers,” one recruiter said at the time of the move. “He brings to Duane just a wealth of experience, extensive contacts and high visibility and stature, so certainly, when I think of the areas in which he has the strongest reputation, I think of him today as one of the leaders of those practice areas.”

Chuck Greenberg and Kristin Wells

A week after taking over as managing partner and CEO of the Texas Rangers, Pepper Hamilton partner Chuck Greenberg made another career decision. In August, he took his sports and entertainment practice to Reed Smith’s Pittsburgh office, continuing a string of additions made by the firm in the Steel City, including Kirk’s group.

Pepper Hamilton partner Kristin Wells made the move with Greenberg and was tasked with transitioning and managing his practice while Greenberg took care of a few things down in Texas, like watching his team go to the World Series.

Greenberg had headed up Pepper Hamilton’s sports practice and was a past member of its executive committee. He is also chairman and founder of consulting firm Greenberg Sports Group.

Though they both joined Reed Smith as counsel, their profile, practice depth and ties to Texas make the pair a strong addition to Reed Smith, which is still looking to enter the Texas market in a substantial way.

As part of his practice, Greenberg has overseen numerous corporate reorganizations, led management search teams, negotiated agreements for coaches and other front-office sports executives, negotiated credit facilities and arena leases, and conceived and led successful arena renovation programs.

Wells provides day-to-day business counseling to the Pittsburgh Penguins NHL franchise and other major and minor league sports franchises.

Richard Strouse

OK, maybe we just like baseball here at The Legal, but Strouse picked a great time to join the Philadelphia Phillies as its newest general counsel. And if he had anything to do with getting Cliff Lee to sign a contract in Philadelphia (sorry, Chuck Greenberg), Strouse moves to the top of the list.

Either way, he wins the award for one of the coolest jobs ever — and for landing what he said was his “dream job.”

While technically signing on at the end of 2009, it was too late in our process last year to include Strouse on 2009′s list, and his transition was well worth mentioning this year.

Strouse’s move further solidified a long-standing relationship his former firm, Ballard Spahr, had with the ball club. One source said the move could help solidify a high-profile client for the firm into the future.

Strouse replaced senior vice president and general counsel William Y. Webb, who had served in the role since 2000. Prior to joining the Phillies, Webb was also a partner at Ballard Spahr, where he had served as outside general counsel to the team since the early 1980s.

Ballard Spahr has represented the team “forever,” Strouse said at the time of his move, and he had consistently worked on its labor and employment, litigation and counseling needs for the last 10 to 15 years.

Cynthia Baldwin

From judge to justice to law firm partner, perhaps one of the only legal positions Cynthia Baldwin hadn’t tackled in her career was general counsel.

But she checked that off the list in February 2010 when Penn State named Baldwin, the former chairwoman of the university’s board of trustees, to an interim position in the school’s first ever general counsel’s office.

Baldwin is serving in a transitional role for Penn State to help it establish and organize the new legal office and assist in the search for a permanent general counsel. That permanent position will be filled following a national search.

Her new position comes with a lot of responsibility. The in-house legal function was created to keep up with current trends in higher education, as well as to better match the needs of the institution as it has grown in size and complexity. There are now more than 90,000 students, 39,000 employees, a law school, a medical college and 24 campuses under Penn State’s umbrella. The university also oversees more than $765 million in research funding annually.

Baldwin was an Allegheny County judge before taking an interim position as justice on the state Supreme Court. She joined Duane Morris’ Pittsburgh office after that term was completed.

Virginia ‘Ginny’ Gibson

Ginny Gibson’s move to Hogan Lovells in November was notable for the facts that she left her high-level position as executive assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania after spending so many years in the public sector and that the firm she joined made such a high-profile hire in its small, typically quiet, Philadelphia outpost.

One recruiter said Hogan Lovells is a strong firm with high standards for lateral hires and said the firm must have felt it had work for Gibson to tackle right out of the public sector.

At the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Gibson most recently oversaw all health care and government fraud cases, taking a lead on most of the major qui tam settlements with pharmaceutical companies in recent years.

She has held some of the highest positions within two U.S. attorney’s offices, spending time in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Delaware in the midst of her tenure for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Gibson was asked to return to Philadelphia from Delaware in 2003 to serve as the civil chief, in charge of all civil litigation out of the office. In June 2009, Gibson served as the first assistant U.S. attorney, who is essentially responsible for running the office. A year later she was elevated to executive assistant, working on some government and health care fraud cases and other special programs.

At Hogan Lovells, Gibson will focus her practice on the health care white-collar arena. She will mainly handle litigation, but will also touch on governance issues.

Walter ‘Tom’ McGough Jr.

Tom McGough was a staple figure in Reed Smith’s Pittsburgh office, working at the firm for 28 years, serving as a member of its executive committee and helping integrate new offices after the firm conducted large-scale mergers.

He at one point headed up the litigation department before resigning that post to move to Chicago and help integrate Sachnoff & Weaver into the firm.

His move at the end of last year to serve as chief legal officer of one of Pittsburgh’s largest businesses, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, was notable for the fact that he was leaving the firm as well as the potential opportunities his new role created for Reed Smith.

McGough said he was enticed by the opportunity to contribute to the largest employer in the Pittsburgh region and an organization that “impacts, on a daily basis, thousands and maybe millions of people.”

When he took over as head of UPMC’s legal department, McGough was managing a staff of 22 lawyers and was charged with reorganizing the legal department. The department had become fragmented as UPMC merged with several other hospitals over the years.

Similarly to how he helped guide Reed Smith’s strategic vision, McGough’s role at UPMC was also set to include working with the CEO and executive committee to help “set the strategic course of the organization and decide what it’s going to be and keep it on that track.”

Howard Shecter

When Howard Shecter left Morgan Lewis & Bockius in 2007 to join Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe in New York, many in the legal community were surprised that he wouldn’t finish out his career at Morgan Lewis. After all, he had been at the firm since graduating law school in 1968, and served at times as its managing partner and chairman.

But as it turns out, Orrick wasn’t the last place he would practice either. Shecter announced in January 2010 that he was coming back to Philadelphia to work at Reed Smith.

While Orrick provided Shecter a broader international platform and a chance to build up the M&A side of his corporate practice, it didn’t have a Pennsylvania presence and had no intention of creating one. Shecter said it was Reed Smith’s platform of having offices across the globe as well as in Pennsylvania that made the firm the right fit.

Shecter has split his time between New York and Philadelphia offices since the mid-1990s when he began focusing on a larger New York-based M&A practice. He said at the time of his move that that shouldn’t change while he is at Reed Smith.

People in the legal community viewed his move as the addition of a big-name partner well entrenched in the Philadelphia and New York legal communities. •

Cover photo, from left: Maslowski, Mullin and Elderkin. Cover photo and photos of Jaffe and Shecter by Nanette Kardaszeski.