Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis is set to acquire all of the attorneys at litigation and government relations boutique Trujillo, Rodriguez & Richards.
The combination will go into effect today, adding two former city solicitors to Schnader as well as the current head of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission, the firm has announced.
Name partners Ken Trujillo, Lisa J. Rodriguez and Ira Neil Richards will join Schnader along with partner Pedro Ramos and associates Nicole Miles Acchione and Gary M. Goldstein.
Schnader Chairman David Smith said Trujillo and Richards started their careers at Schnader and the two firms have always maintained close contact. They started talking a few months ago about joining forces again. Smith said this is not a merger, but rather the attorneys are joining Schnader. He said Trujillo Rodriguez, formed in 1997, would look to wind down its affairs as the class action cases it currently has wrap up.
"I think that the lawyers at Trujillo Rodriguez & Richards were feeling a bit of pressure as their practice migrated more toward representing large institutions as opposed to representing individuals in class actions," Smith said, noting the smaller firm felt it needed more resources to handle matters for larger clients.
"So long as they were representing individuals in class actions, they were happy to be independent," Smith said.
Over the years, Trujillo Rodriguez has shifted from representing plaintiffs in class action cases to representing both plaintiff and defendant corporations and public entities in litigation. Smith said the Trujillo Rodriguez attorneys will only be practicing at Schnader while their firm winds down. The two firms decided some of the Trujillo Rodriguez class action cases were not appropriate to bring to Schnader and the lawyers will withdraw their appearance in those matters. In some of the class action cases, they will continue their work, but as Schnader lawyers, Smith said.
Trujillo said his firm has been looking to grow for about a year, whether it be through lateral acquisitions or combining with a larger firm. Joining Schnader, he said, made sense from a cultural and business standpoint. The two firms share a history, including Trujillo, as city solicitor, hiring Smith to work on litigation involving the financing of Philadelphia's stadiums and Trujillo running Schnader partner Jim Eisenhower's bid to become Pennsylvania attorney general.
From a business standpoint, joining a larger firm was becoming more and more of an issue for Trujillo Rodriguez.
"Over the last few years, increasingly we were in a situation where we would only be able to get pieces of the litigation or pieces of the representation just because we needed more capacity," Trujillo said.
That was true of the firm's litigation work and its work handling public-private partnership deals. Trujillo said the firm's size limited it to handling the strategic advice piece of P3 deals rather than the real estate, tax and corporate work that comes along with it.
Given the political background of some of Trujillo Rodriguez's attorneys, the firm has focused a portion of its practice on public-private partnerships. Trujillo and Ramos are each former city solicitors and Ramos currently serves as chairman of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission. Smith said Schnader has long had a successful public-private partnership practice, run by partner and former city solicitor Marilyn Kutler. The firm has worked on Philadelphia's stadium deals, the Philadelphia Navy Yard project and the Market East redevelopment, Smith noted.
"They bring a lot of additional strength to that practice area," Smith said of the Trujillo Rodriguez attorneys.
Both firms have historically focused on litigation and share many of the same clients, Smith said. Trujillo said there were very few conflicts between the firms.
In 2009, Trujillo Rodriguez opened a government relations subsidiary, OnPoint Public & Private Solutions, which was initially run by Ramos and Nora Dowd Eisenhower. Eisenhower has since left the firm to take a senior vice president post at the National Council on Aging. OnPoint focused on lobbying, crisis management, public-private partnerships, government procurement and contract management advice and diversity counseling.
Smith said the government relations subsidiary is not part of the group Schnader is acquiring, but he said he couldn't predict whether it might be in the future. He said the lawyers are coming to Schnader to practice law and will continue to represent government entities and clients going before government entities in that capacity.
"But the affiliated entity was a registered lobbyist and today I don't think they are going to be doing that," Smith said.
Smith said the subsidiary will still exist, but he said he isn't sure that it will be operational. Trujillo said OnPoint gave his firm the opportunity to handle consulting and lobbying work that wasn't as well suited for a law firm environment. He said the firms would be spending the next few months determining whether it makes sense to keep that business open. If the decision is made to close, most of the clients could transition into clients of the law firm, he said.
All but two of the Trujillo Rodriguez attorneys will work in Schnader's Philadelphia office. Rodriguez, who will work in Schnader's Cherry Hill, N.J., office with associate Acchione, is a trial lawyer focusing on complex litigation — something Smith said the firm was looking for in New Jersey since the head of that office, John M. Armstrong, died unexpectedly last year.
Back on the Bandwagon
The Trujillo Rodriguez attorneys also fit in with a broader growth strategy for 180-lawyer Schnader.
"We've been very conservative over the last 10 years since our difficulties with mergers in the very late '90s and the early 2000s," Smith said. "Our goal is to grow very significantly with boutique firms of the quality of Trujillo Rodriguez & Richards."
Smith was referring to two failed mergers Schnader experienced more than a decade ago. In June 2000, Schnader merged with noted Philadelphia firm Mesirov Gelman Jaffe Cramer & Jamieson. But those lawyers soon began to clash with attorneys from Boston-based Goldstein & Manello, a firm Schnader had acquired a few months earlier. The pressures proved more than the combined firms could handle during the recession of 2001 and Goldstein & Manello announced it would be splitting off from Schnader. Soon key Mesirov Gelman lawyers started leaving the firm as well.
But Smith said Schnader is now actively looking in all of its existing locations for growth opportunities similar to that found with Trujillo Rodriguez. New geographic markets aren't on the radar screen at the moment unless the opportunity is right, Smith said. Expanding practice depth is the broader goal, he said.
"We've always been a litigation firm but we would love to achieve a better balance between litigation and transactional," Smith said. "I think the way to do that is by mergers with top tier boutiques."
Gina Passarella can be contacted at 215-557-2494 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @GPassarellaTLI. •