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Two Pittsburgh law firms are preparing to become one, as Houston Harbaugh bolts on business litigation boutique Picadio Sneath Miller & Norton, with an eye on diversifying their litigation offerings.

Houston Harbaugh and Picadio Sneath plan to merge effective Jan. 1, they announced Friday, creating a 43-lawyer firm. The combined law firm will keep the name Houston Harbaugh, and will operate out of Houston Harbaugh’s existing office at Three Gateway Center in downtown Pittsburgh.

Houston Harbaugh partner and executive committee member Alex Thomson said the two firms were in talks for about 18 months before announcing the combination. They had some mutual clients and referred work to each other, and several partners at the two firms were personal friends, he said.

“We have been always on the lookout for either good laterals or good smaller-size firms,” Thomson said. “We don’t have a desire to be an office of a larger firm, so in order to remain independent we need to make sure we’re capable of selectively growing.”

Houston Harbaugh works with privately owned companies with between $5 million and $200 million in annual revenue, he said.

“This merger represents growth through the addition of important new practice areas, while giving the entire firm deeper bench strength with an extremely talented group of attorneys who are a great fit for our firm and our clients,” said Samuel Simon, a member of Houston Harbaugh’s executive committee, in a statement. “Clients of both firms will see the benefits in terms of the value we deliver and the expanded resources we offer.”

Leadership from Picadio Sneath will take on management roles in Houston Harbaugh’s litigation practice. Henry Sneath will now co-chair the litigation practice along with Simon. And Alan Miller, who was president of Picadio Sneath, will chair the insurance coverage and bad-faith practice group, as well as the environmental and energy law practice.

“We’ve been a litigation boutique for a number of years and that has served us well but we felt it was time to join up with a firm that had a litigation practice where we felt the two practices could really be accretive,” Sneath said. “It brings a whole new world of possibilities for us to reach out to their clients and better service their clients as well.”

Houston Harbaugh, a 40-year-old firm, has traditionally focused on business law, with its core practices as business, trusts and estates, health care and litigation. With its newest acquisition, it adds litigation capabilities in class actions, construction, energy and environmental law, financial services, insurance, intellectual property, life sciences and pharmaceuticals and products liability, the firm said.

“We’ve always viewed ourselves as a little bit of a unique animal in Pittsburgh in that we have a very strong business practice for a midsize firm,” Thomson said. “We have a very strong group of attorneys who can do quality legal representation at a price point that is very hard for our competitors to meet.”

That is still the case with this addition, he noted, but now the firm’s litigation practice has doubled, with the addition of nine lawyers from Picadio Sneath.

Picadio Sneath was founded in Pittsburgh in 1985 as Sherman & Picadio, when Anthony Picadio, Lynette Norton and C. Leon Sherman left Pittsburgh-based Tucker Arensberg to start their own shop. The firm has gone through some changes in its name since then, first when Sherman left and other partners joined, but Picadio remains at the firm as a shareholder focusing on business litigation and environmental law.

One of the firm’s former shareholders, Bridget Gillespie, was tapped to head up the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s new office in Pittsburgh when it opened last year, as director of western Pennsylvania services.

From the original group that left Tucker Arensberg, only Picadio remained at Picadio Sneath, Sneath said.

“The impetus here is that we did want to be bigger and we did want to have a larger litigation footprint,” he said. “We think it will be easier to recruit top level legal talent at a larger firm.”