Three former members of Pittsburgh-based Burns White, including the chair of its construction group and co-chair of its business practices group, have left the firm to start Burke Cromer Cremonese, a litigation boutique with a focus on professional liability.

Burns White members Sheila M. Burke, John B. Cromer and Michael J. Cremonese announced the new firm Monday, though it officially opened its doors July 22.

Cremonese, who focuses his practice on representing architects, engineers and design-builders, previously served as the chair of Burns White's construction practice and co-chair of its business practices group.

Burke, meanwhile, focuses her practice on defending insurance agents and insurers, brokers, real estate agents, school districts, corporate directors and officers, business owners and management companies.

Cromer centers his practice on complex commercial litigation, particularly in the construction, employment and environmental sectors.

Joining them as an associate is Katherine M. Wrenshall, who was previously an associate at Burns White, focusing her practice on representing architects, engineers and design-builders.

Cremonese told The Legal on Wednesday that he and his colleagues decided to start their own firm because they all had similar practices and felt they could serve their clients better that way.

"I think we felt we could more efficiently and effectively serve our clients by having a smaller group of lawyers," Cremonese said.

Cremonese said he and his colleagues are "not looking necessarily at raising rates to maximize our own profits."

"The three of us believe strongly that law is a profession first and really a business second," Cremonese said.

Burke, meanwhile, said Burke Cromer is "definitely leaner" than Burns White, which has nearly 100 lawyers in nine offices, and reiterated Cremonese's point that one of the goals of the new firm is to figure out ways to serve longstanding clients more efficiently.

So far, Burke said, client reaction has been "overwhelmingly supportive."

Burke said all of her clients have followed her to the new shop, while Cremonese said the majority of his have done the same.
Cremonese said professional liability litigation has been steady, thanks in large part to America's service-oriented economy, though it did not see the spike during the most recent recession that it typically has in past economic downturns.
"I did not see that with the downturn in '08, '09 and 2010," Cremonese said. "I expected to see that — in previous down cycles you would see a spike."

Cremonese said there are several possible reasons for that, including that the last recession was so severe it deterred people from spending money on costly litigation.

"The bottom dropped out so much that people didn't even want to spend money on lawyers to go find money," he said.

But Cremonese added that the construction industry is fairly litigious, regardless.

Burke, meanwhile, said the portion of her practice devoted to representing insurance brokers and agents tends not to ebb and flow with the economy, but rather spikes for other reasons, such as the occurrence of a natural disaster.

But Cremonese said their practice is just as much about helping clients avoid litigation as it is about defending lawsuits once they arise.

"Don't just hire us to help you when you get sued, hire us to help you not get sued," Cremonese said.

As for whether Burke Cromer will look to grow beyond its four attorneys, Cremonese said it would, but only as it becomes necessary and the work can support it.

"I think we'll grow as the need arises," Cremonese said. "I don't think we'll remain at four attorneys forever. I anticipate the need will arise and we will look to add where we believe we can best serve our clients."

Burns White co-founder David B. White could not be reached for comment at press time.

According to Burns White's website, Philadelphia members Andrew Fylypovych and Jeffrey S. Adler are the current chairs of the construction and business practices groups, respectively.