Philadelphia’s largest law firms may compete over the same business, but they share the same problems and concerns too when it comes to managing their own affairs.
Their common bonds, and the efforts of Philadelphia Bar Association Chancellor Kathleen Wilkinson, have resulted in 18 of the city’s largest law firms coming together to discuss shared concerns, promote the city and lobby for the legal industry’s interests to local government and business leaders. And, an added bonus for the bar association is that it revitalizes the membership and participation of large firms in the association.
When Wilkinson took over as chancellor, one of her goals was to reconstitute the large law firm committee, which had sat dormant for at least five years. Wilkinson will serve as the committee representative from her firm, Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker. She has tapped Cozen O’Connor managing partner Vincent R. McGuinness and Dechert partner Ben Barnett as co-chairmen of the committee.
"This committee gives large law firm leaders a tremendous opportunity to meet and talk about the common challenges that face large law firms and the unique nature of the Philadelphia legal community," Wilkinson said in a statement. "Moreover, we need to take steps through the committee to make the bar relevant to attorneys in large firms and make certain that talented attorneys in those firms understand how the bar can help them grow and develop as professionals."
The group, which includes the leaders of the city’s largest firms, meets quarterly to discuss problems firms are facing, come up with projects to tackle and bring in speakers. The first meeting was in March and the committee has adopted several projects to take on in the first year, headlined by an economic study of the legal industry’s impact on Philadelphia’s economy.
Barnett, who is leading the committee’s work on the study, said an economic adviser will look not just at lawyers’ impact on the region’s economy, but at legal vendors as well. The goal is to use this when lobbying elected officials and public policy people, he said. The report is expected to be completed within two months.
"It will make a case for law firms and others that what we do on a day-to-day basis has an effect on the economy," Barnett said.
One of the areas that large Philadelphia-based firms in particular grapple with is the city’s business privilege tax, a tax former leaders of the bar association have pushed to eliminate for law firm partnerships, McGuinness said. The revitalized committee will also look at the issue.
Another item on the agenda for 2013 includes urging the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to take a look at, and ultimately adopt, a rule change that has long sat dormant on their agenda. The court is contemplating allowing law firms that provide pro bono service to have some of those hours used toward continuing legal education credits.
McGuinness said that is an important rule for large firms particularly because attorneys who specialize in a practice only have so many options for CLEs throughout the year. Adopting the rule change would be a "win-win for everybody," McGuinness said, because it would allow firms more time to do pro bono work and would help lessen the burden of CLE requirements.
Promoting Philadelphia as a business, cultural and legal center is also at the top of the minds of the committee members. To that end, McGuinness said the committee will host a June reception for the summer associates of all the member firms so that they can meet with firm leadership and see the connections the community has made among competing firms.
"I’m not a native Philadelphian, but one thing that is unique about Philadelphia is there truly is a legal community here," Barnett said. "There’s a way to build a practice and profile here in bar activities and other charitable work."
Barnett said that isn’t necessarily the case in markets like New York or Washington.
While they won’t tackle all of their concerns in the first year, McGuinness said some of the other common issues that were raised at the first meeting dealt with associate retention, law firm economics, capital issues in law firms and recruiting difficulties. On the capital front, McGuinness noted the demise of Dewey & LeBoeuf and how committee members talked of how to avoid falling into the same fate.
Speakers will be brought in to address some of these topics. Paul Levy of the Center City District will be one of the group’s first speakers. Wilkinson said she recently testified before City Council regarding efforts to make Philadelphia a more global city. She said many of the firms on the committee have an international presence and can help promote the city abroad and bring diversity to Philadelphia.
Other members of the committee are Ballard Spahr Chairman Mark S. Stewart, DLA Piper Philadelphia managing partner James Brogan, Drinker Biddle & Reath executive partner Andrew C. Kassner, Duane Morris partner Matthew A. Taylor, Fox Rothschild Co-Chairman Abraham C. Reich, Littler Mendelson Co-President Thomas J. Bender, Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin Chairman Peter S. Miller, Reed Smith partner Sara A. Begley, Saul Ewing managing partner David Antzis, Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis managing partner Nicholas J. LePore III, Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young partner Ellen Rosen Rogoff, White and Williams partner Kevin Cottone, Blank Rome Co-Chairman Alan J. Hoffman, Pepper Hamilton Vice Chairwoman Julia D. Corelli and Morgan, Lewis & Bockius Philadelphia managing partner J. Gordon Cooney Jr.