Despite the cold temperatures, January is often the month that the lateral market thaws and attorneys begin to make moves. This year has been no exception, with maybe a little more movement than in recent years. But is the movement among the state’s firms the typical start-of-the-year burst or is it a sign of things to come in 2013?

In the first month of the year, there were at least six lateral moves plus a large group defection among Pennsylvania firms.

Recruiters and law firm leaders alike expect a similar lateral market to what the industry saw in 2011 and 2012 in terms of activity, with the bulk of Pennsylvania firms looking outside of the state for their hiring needs.

Ballard Spahr Chairman Mark Stewart said he would expect the same amount of movement in 2013 as the market saw in the last few years. Stewart said any increased movement in January is typical of the culture and economic structure at law firms that supports movement soon after the end of a firm’s fiscal year.

For Ballard Spahr, lateral acquisitions have been focused in other markets.

"We’re rarely talking to lateral candidates in Philadelphia," Stewart said.

That isn’t necessarily because the firm feels it has maxed out on attorneys in Pennsylvania, Stewart said, but rather there just isn’t as much movement. Aside from the Decherts and Morgan, Lewis & Bockiuses of the world, most of the large firms in the market are on the same playing field financially, Stewart said. Attorneys therefore don’t look to move much among those firms. The Philadelphia market is mature and many of the clients are institutionalized in the city, causing attorneys to stay put, Stewart said.

Recruiter Robert Nourian of Coleman Nourian said Pennsylvania firms have reached critical mass in their home-state offices and can service clients from those offices with the people they already have. Similar to Stewart’s point, Nourian noted it is also difficult for one firm to woo a group of partners from across the street because there aren’t that many differences between the firms.

A Pennsylvania firm talking to laterals in other markets, however, can be an easier sell because it gives those laterals the opportunity to fill out a practice need in a newer office and potentially have more leadership potential or autonomy, Nourian said.

If firms are looking to grow revenue in a lower-demand economy, entering new markets where there is a growing industry base, such as the energy market in Texas, may be the way to go, Nourian said. It might also make sense for firms to open new offices to be closer to a client.

"It makes a whole lot of sense, if growing in a material way, to be looking outside of this region if you are a Pennsylvania-based firm," Nourian said.

Regardless of where firms are looking, confidence in the lateral market has incrementally improved each year that the industry is further out from the recession, Nourian said.

Some attorneys have a little more optimism about the market and perhaps some pent-up feelings of dissatisfaction with their current firm that may cause them to be more willing to entertain a move in this climate, he said.

There has also been the dynamic during the recession that, in an effort to hold onto revenue, firms were holding onto partners or groups who didn’t necessarily fit into their long-term strategic model, but were financially supporting themselves and adding revenue to the firm. Firms would talk those partners into staying if they looked to leave, Nourian said.

"I think they will be less inclined to put the full-court press on to keep somebody when they think things are going in the right direction firmwide from a revenue standpoint," Nourian said of law firm attitudes in the current market.

That won’t dramatically increase lateral movement, but it may give a slight boost, he said.

The same desire to increase revenue has been driving firms to have a hefty appetite for lateral hires with portable books of business. But at the same time, those firms aren’t willing to take risks on laterals that they were willing to take before the recession, Nourian said.

"I don’t think we’re at the point where firms are lowering their standards in terms of incoming portable practice yet," Nourian said. "I think there would need to be quite a bit more revenue strength and profit strength for them to consider making the types of investments in people they did pre-recession."

Frank D’Amore of Attorney Career Catalysts said he expects 2013 to be similar to the last two years when it comes to lateral movement. Firms will continue to aggressively look for laterals in an effort to boost revenue, but D’Amore said he doesn’t expect any "meteoric rise" in lateral movement to occur.

For the biggest firms in the state, the focus will most likely be outside of Pennsylvania, D’Amore said, given the mature market in the state. It has become easier for firms to grow beyond Pennsylvania’s borders because they are gaining name recognition across the country, he said.

Making Moves in Pa

On January 7, litigator Courtney Gilligan Saleski joined DLA Piper’s Philadelphia office as a partner. She had previously been an assistant U.S. attorney in the District of Columbia, where she led investigations and prosecutions on health care fraud, procurement fraud, securities fraud and public corruption matters. DLA Piper said her addition expands the firm’s white-collar defense and investigations capabilities, particularly in the health care sector.

Also in early January, Ogletree Deakins Nash Smoak & Stewart hired Jackson Lewis partner Alexander Nemiroff as a shareholder. The employment litigator focuses his practice on employment discrimination, trade secrets, social media, wage-and-hour laws and other technology issues.

On January 10, Saul Ewing announced that it hired K&L Gates energy partner John P. Englert as a partner in its energy, environment and utilities department in Pittsburgh. Englert focuses his practice on energy, environmental and safety and health matters for commercial and industrial clients. He works in the regulatory and compliance space.

On January 15, Ballard Spahr said it hired trusts and estates attorney Jenna Millman as of counsel in its family wealth management practice in Philadelphia. She handles estate planning and estate and trust administration for high-net-worth individuals and families in the United States and abroad. Admitted to the New York bar, Millman joined Ballard Spahr from the New York office of Moses & Singer.

On January 21, Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel said it hired the former deputy general counsel of the Philadelphia Housing Authority, Michael F. Eichert, as a partner in the firm’s litigation department. Eichert joined the PHA last year and previously had spent several years as chief counsel for the Pennsylvania Department of General Services. He will focus his private practice on legal representation and counseling related to public procurement for both government entities and businesses, the firm said.

On January 28, Drinker Biddle & Reath announced it hired former Hogan Lovells attorney Brian Lynch as a partner in its corporate and securities practice in Philadelphia. He will focus on mergers and acquisitions and capital markets transactions. He also counsels clients on SEC reporting and compliance, corporate governance and general corporate matters. Before entering private practice, Lynch worked for the SEC.

The end of January also brought a new firm to Philadelphia thanks to the defection of eight partners from Cozen O’Connor. The insurance and commercial litigators left the firm to start the Philadelphia office of San Francisco-based Gordon & Rees. The team was composed of partners William Shelley, Ann Thornton Field, Josh Wall, Joseph A. Arnold, Jacob C. Cohn, C. Tyler Havey, James E. Robinson and Catherine Slavin.

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