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Law firm lateral hires of the past year


Bob Nourian was recently quoted in the January 10th, 2014 edition of The Philadelphia Business Journal discussing lateral partner movement.

The number and quality of lateral movement among Philadelphia law firm partners picked up in 2013 after years of decline since the recession.

According to data tracked by the Philadelphia Business Journal, 79 local law firm partners switched firms this year. That figure is well above the 55 recorded in 2012, 40 in 2011 and 53 in 2010. It is the most since 114 partners switched firms in 2009, but it should be noted that 66 of those came from Wolf Block's dissolution. The current figures are approaching the 84 in 2008 and 109 in 2007, the last two years in which most were not consumed by the economic downturn.

The reason for the rebound appears to be the number of groups that switched firms. Legal recruiter Robert Nourian of Coleman Nourian said a number of lawyers running their own smaller firms chose to dissolve their businesses and joining larger firms.

Included in those ranks were six-lawyer Trujillo Rodriguez & Richards, which merged into Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis. There was also 10-lawyer firm Deeb Blum Murphy Frishberg & Markovich, whose partners joined two separate firms. Richard Galli folded his firm into Post & Schell. Herbert Fineberg took his five lawyer-team and joined Offit Kurman. And Edward Murphy joined Blue Bell's Wisler Pearlstine.

"I think we'll see more of this in the next couple of years," Nourian said. "You are talking largely about people at the end of their careers. They have to think about whether they want to deal with the pressure of managing their own firms and being relied upon to be a primary business-getter. If they don't want all the pressure, they join a large firm and get resources and a safe landing spot for their associates."

But lawyers with developing practices at large firms often run into rate issues and have clients that their firms are not excited to have. So Nourian said those lawyers often go out on their own or to a smaller firm where they can set their own rates and business plans. But he said they could come back after they've established themselves more.

There were also groups of lawyers that joined firms looking to carve out niches in the Philadelphia market, San Francisco's Gordon & Rees entered Philadelphia by adding eight partners from Cozen O'Connor, including a few senior litigators such as Ann Field and William Shelley. North Jersey-based Carroll McNulty & Kull entered by taking seven insurance litigators, including a firm founder and the managing partner, from Christie Pabarue Mortensen & Young.

As for a few more trends, there were also a good number of lawyers working governmental entities and in-house counsel that chose to join law firms this year.

"Corporate winds are shifting with M&A and reorganization displacing senior in-house lawyers, who find it tough to find their next jobs in-house," Nourian said. "So they turn to law firms."

One other trend of note was that more corporate lawyers with big books of business- in the Philadelphia market $1 million is considered to be reaching rainmaker status- switched firms. It has been very hard for firms to pry transactional lawyers from rivals since the recession. Part of the reason is firms have fought hard to accommodate those with books of business during the down economy. But corporate lawyers have always been harder to recruit as their books of business are often institutionalized at their firms and therefore not very portable.

Deal lawyers like Feinberg, David Nasatir, Ira Gubernick, Brian Lynch and Thomas Dwyer all made moves in 2013.

Nourian said he does not think this represents a pattern or signal of a major change in the market. It might just be this was a year where stars aligned for movement.

As for some of the biggest moves of the year, Ken Trujillo's team returning to Schnader, the Gordon Rees acquisition of the Cozen group, the Carroll McNulty firm reeling in seven lawyers from Christie Pabarue were all big moves.

There was also the story of two deans of the real estate bar moving in opposite directions. Steve Aichele returned to Saul Ewing after serving time as Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett's chief of staff. But Cozen real estate chairman Herman Fala said he would leave the firm to join longtime client Liberty Property Trust as its general counsel in the wake of the death of James Bowes in November.

Nasatir's return to Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel from Thorp Reed is also a coup for a firm that had lost its chief transactional rainmaker in Jeff Rotwitt a few years back.

And intellectual property litigators David Wolfsohn and Aleksander J. Goranin's departure from Woodcock Washburn for Duane Morris was certainly a major move. Click the photo to the right to see a slideshow of notable lateral moves from the past year.