The University of Pittsburgh has decided to split its chief business and legal offices into two separate positions, making way for the appointment of a new general counsel.

P. Jerome Richey, who up until the end of last year was the chief legal officer and executive vice president of Consol Energy, will serve as the chief legal officer at Pitt effective March 1.

Since 2004, Jerome Cochran has served in the dual role of the university’s executive vice chancellor and general counsel. University Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg said Cochran’s multiple roles were a testament to his skill set and the needs of the principal consumers of legal services at the university. But Nordenberg said he always knew the time would come when he had to split the business and legal roles and the opportunity to recruit Richey sped that up.

“This shift in responsibilities also will permit Jerry Cochran to focus on the university’s increasingly complex array of business needs as we continue to move through financially challenging times,” Nordenberg said in a statement. “The unusual stability within our senior management team has been a true institutional asset, but we also do need to make periodic adjustments that better position us to meet the changing needs of a difficult environment.”

When he takes over in March, Richey will lead the university’s Office of General Counsel, which includes 12 lawyers, the university’s research integrity officer and 10 other employees, including three paralegals.

The attorneys in the office, all of whom have developed areas of special expertise, are responsible for preparing and reviewing Pitt’s contracts, structuring and assisting with a range of oversight activities, representing Pitt in legal proceedings, supervising outside counsel and providing legal advice to the university.

The attorneys have expertise in athletics compliance, construction and other commercial contracts, employment issues, environmental regulation, international initiatives, philanthropic and other financial documents, student discipline, research integrity and technology transfer.

Richey was not available for an interview on his move.

“Pitt always has been a very important institution to me, and, particularly in recent years, it has been one of the major engines of progress for this entire region, which has been my lifetime home,” Richey said in a statement. “I welcome the opportunity to assume this new role, which positions me to help the university maximize its impact in both education and research. I also look forward to joining a leadership team that already has taken the university to new levels of accomplishment and that has been able to maintain Pitt’s ongoing momentum, even in difficult times.”

Richey received both his undergraduate and law degree from Pitt. He began his career in private practice in 1974 with the law firm of Moorhead & Knox, which merged into what is now known as Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney in 1981. While in private practice, Richey focused on commercial litigation, employment counseling and litigation, governance and internal investigations. He also served as the primary legal ethics adviser to Buchanan Ingersoll.

In 2005, Richey moved to Consol Energy as general counsel and corporate secretary. In 2007, he was promoted to the position of senior vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary, and in 2009, he was promoted to the position of chief legal officer and executive vice president.

In that latter role, he continued to have principal responsibility for the legal affairs of Consol and also was responsible for management of its environmental, government relations, human resources and public relations departments.

Richey announced in December 2012 that he planned to retire from Consol in March 2014. As part of that announcement, Consol began the transition of the chief legal officer role. Beginning in January of this year, Richey became executive vice president of corporate projects and, effective January 1, Stephen W. Johnson, senior vice president and general counsel, was promoted to chief legal and corporate affairs officer.

Johnson now oversees the legal, environmental, human resources, major transactions, government affairs and public relations functions at Consol. He had joined Consol in 2005 as the general counsel of its subsidiary, CNX Gas Corp. Before that, Johnson was a partner at Reed Smith and Buchanan Ingersoll.

In 2012, Richey continued his run as one of the highest-paid general counsel among the state’s publicly traded companies. He ranked ninth in TheLegal‘s GC Compensation supplement’s ranking of GCs by total cash compensation. In 2012, Richey earned nearly $870,000 in total cash compensation, which included nearly $450,000 in salary and another $425,000 in nonequity incentive plan compensation. When adding up his total cash payout and other stock and option awards and pension value, Richey earned more than $2.2 million in 2012.

Gina Passarella can be contacted at 215-557-2494 or at gpassarella@alm.com. Follow her on Twitter @GPassarellaTLI.