Cozen O’Connor is acquiring a real estate boutique in Santa Monica, California, the firm announced Monday, adding a new office to the growing Philadelphia-based firm.
All 10 lawyers from Santa Monica’s Gilchrist & Rutter are set to join Cozen O’Connor effective Oct. 1, including eight partners, one of counsel and one associate. Gilchrist & Rutter managing partner Jonathan Gross will manage the office, and will co-chair the firm’s real estate practice group.
The lawyers will soon move to an office in Century City, Cozen O’Connor CEO Michael Heller said. And in several years, the downtown Los Angeles office will likely be consolidated into Century City as well.
The merger announcement follows a number of lateral hires and acquisitions for Cozen O’Connor, including its opening of an office and continued growth in Pittsburgh, additions to its labor and employment practice, and the acquisition of a campus safety consulting firm based in New Hampshire. Cozen O’Connor already had California offices in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco.
Heller has said the firm could grow to 700 to 1,000 lawyers within the next five years. Cozen O’Connor currently has 675 lawyers, according to the firm.
The California real estate market is “booming,” Heller said Wednesday, but the new group also provides numerous cross-marketing opportunities.
“They’ve got a very national real estate practice with national clients that are doing deals all over the country,” Heller said. “We’re continuing to develop depth and breadth all around the country, continuing to develop full-service all around the country. … This is just a logical extension.”
Heller said Gilchrist & Rutter was actually deep in merger discussions with another Am Law 100 firm a couple of months ago, when one of their partners met with a friend at Cozen O’Connor. Upon learning that the smaller firm was seeking a merger partner, Cozen O’Connor swooped in to see if it was a match. Heller said it was one of the fastest combinations his firm has done.
Gross, of Gilchrist & Rutter, said in a statement that his firm has been watching Cozen O’Connor’s growth, and is “thrilled to be part of such an entrepreneurial firm with an expanding, national platform.”
Gilchrist & Rutter has a full-service real estate practice, including commercial office, retail and industrial space, multifamily and manufactured housing, development, financing, leasing, purchasing, sales, joint ventures and exchanges. It also has a regulatory and government relations practice.
The manufactured housing practice is a niche area in which only a few firms have experienced lawyers, said Cozen O’Connor business law chairman Jeffrey Leonard in a statement—and it’s a growing industry in California. Gilchrist & Rutter’s manufactured housing practice has been operating for most of the firm’s history.
The 34-year-old firm’s clients have included J.P. Morgan Asset Management Inc., Archon Group and McCarthy Cook & Co. Other clients have included Maguire Properties Group and Thomas Properties Group, where Gilchrist & Rutter co-founder Paul Rutter worked in-house at the executive level.
Cozen O’Connor’s real estate practice was among its highest performing groups in 2016, Heller said in February. The firm grew revenue by 10 percent in 2016.
The merger announcement is the fourth this month by a large Philadelphia firm. Ballard Spahr is planning to add about 150 lawyers from Minneapolis-based Lindquist & Vennum and 25 from media law boutique Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz. And Saul Ewing merged with Chicago-based Arnstein & Lehr, creating a firm of 400-plus lawyers.
“The legal market is seeing the financial strength of the Philadelphia firms. It sees the strength of the middle-market commercial practices,” Heller said. “That’s why I think you’re seeing firms understand the platforms that firms like ours can offer.”