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Atlanta-based litigation firm Freeman Mathis & Gary has opened in Philadelphia with the addition of four labor and employment attorneys from Spector Gadon & Rosen and one from litigation boutique Green, Silverstein & Groff.

In addition to the new Philadelphia location, the move also gives 65-lawyer Freeman Mathis new offices in Moorestown, N.J., and Tampa.

Jennifer Ward, who had been managing partner of Spector Gadon’s Marlton, N.J., office, has joined Freeman Mathis as managing partner of its Philadelphia and New Jersey offices.

Ward’s practice centers on defending employers in labor and employment claims, as well as defending lawyers, accountants, real estate brokers and others in professional liability matters.

Freeman Mathis also brought aboard Spector Gadon associates Barry S. Brownstein and Behnam Salehi as a partner and an associate, respectively, in the Philadelphia and New Jersey offices.

Meaghan Londergan has also joined the firm in Philadelphia from Green Silverstein.

Meanwhile, Jeremy W. Rogers, who had been an associate in Spector Gadon’s St. Petersburg, Fla., office, has joined Freeman Mathis as a partner in Tampa.

Freeman Mathis managing partner Benton J. Mathis Jr. said that while the firm had been “looking to expand into a national footprint,” the move was really about bringing on Ward and her group.

“We’ve known Jen for several years … and we’ve always been impressed with her,” Mathis said. “She’s smart, she’s got a lot of drive and is well thought of.”

Mathis said the group’s practice is “very compatible” with Freeman Mathis’ practice, as is its client base, which includes several national insurance carriers with whom the firm already works with.

“Jen is dealing with a lot of the same people we deal with day-to-day,” Mathis said.

Mathis said the firm’s expansion efforts have traditionally been built on personal relationships, rather than targeting specific geographic regions.

For example, Mathis said, when the firm merged with seven-lawyer, San Francisco-based litigation boutique Strazulo Fitzgerald last summer—a move he characterized as the firm’s only other large lateral acquisition—it had less to do with a desire for a West Coast presence and more to do with the firm’s interest in Strazulo Fitzgerald founder Dennis D. Strazulo and his team.

“I know this sounds trite but it really comes down to the people,” Mathis said, explaining that his firm is very careful about who it chooses to enter into business relationships with and will not make a lateral hire without having an adequate comfort level with the attorneys.

Mathis said the firm is only interested in hiring “people we like, have confidence in” and who already have relationships with Freeman Mathis partners, but admitted those types of hires are not easy to come by.

“There are some other markets we’d probably like to be in the near future but we may not ever get there because we don’t know the lawyers there or we don’t have a relationship with somebody that really makes us comfortable,” Mathis said, adding that this selectiveness has even kept the firm from expanding into other regions of Georgia.

“Sometimes you wonder if that’s the right decision,” Mathis said of limiting lateral hires to familiar faces. “We’ve passed on a number of opportunities with what were clearly good people but we just never got the comfort level.”
Still, Mathis said, the firm has always placed more stock in expanding from within than through constantly bringing on laterals and he expects the growth in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Florida will evolve much the same way.

“That’s one of the things we liked: Jen’s very interested in growing and we’re interested in growth,” Mathis said. “We’ve grown a good bit and a lot of that growth has been internally driven, not through laterals, but through growing practices. … My experience over the years is that a lot of our growth has been nuts-and-bolts: growing young lawyers who then become young partners.”

Ward did not respond to requests for comment but was quoted in a Freeman Mathis press release as saying she decided to make the move because her practice has been growing and Freeman Mathis offers “the broad infrastructure and capabilities necessary to sustain this growth and to meet the needs of my clients.”

“As a national firm with a strong and diverse litigation practice, FMG was a perfect fit,” Ward said in the press release.

Spector Gadon Chairman Paul R. Rosen could not be reached for comment at press time.

While Freeman Mathis is more interested in people than places, Mathis said geographic expansion is still an important consideration and noted that the firm’s new Philadelphia and New Jersey offices give the firm an important foothold in the Northeast.

Mathis said geography plays a particularly important role in cases where insurance carrier clients are selecting the counsel.

According to Mathis, those clients often tend to be “very focused” on selecting counsel that has a physical presence wherever their insured is located or the lawsuit is filed.

“I don’t want to suggest that [geography is] irrelevant,” Mathis said. “There are certain areas of the country where, if Jen was there, we would have had to say, ‘We know Jen and we love her but we probably don’t want to be there.’”

In addition, Mathis said the firm has long been interested in expanding into Florida and is “probably not done” opening locations elsewhere in the state.

Although having a physical presence in a certain area is not essential to every aspect of his firm’s practice, Mathis said it can be very important.

Freeman Mathis is not the first Atlanta-based firm with a heavy labor and employment focus to open in Pennsylvania.

In 2007, both Fisher & Phillips and Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart opened Philadelphia offices.

Ogletree Deakins also opened a Pittsburgh office that year.

Zack Needles can be contacted at 215-557-2493 or zneedles@alm.com. Follow him on Twitter @ZNeedlesTLI.