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Firms divvy up Rhoads & Sinon attorneysAs Rhoads & Sinon dissolves, local law firms grab prominent players, eye growth

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Drake Nicholas, left, moved from Rhoads & Sinon to become a partner at Barley Snyder. Jeff Lobach, right, is managing partner at Barley Snyder, which is based in Lancaster.
Drake Nicholas, left, moved from Rhoads & Sinon to become a partner at Barley Snyder. Jeff Lobach, right, is managing partner at Barley Snyder, which is based in Lancaster. - (Photo / )

The legal sector in Central Pennsylvania may have already seen its biggest change this year.

As many professional offices reopened Jan. 2 following the New Year’s holiday, longtime Harrisburg law firm Rhoads & Sinon LLP closed the book on more than 80 years of history.

After flirting with a move to a bigger firm two years ago and watching multiple attorneys leave last year to start new practices, the firm’s partners decided it was time to go their separate ways to begin 2018.

Many law firms, facing stagnant demand for legal services, also have been turning to mergers to grow their reach and their range of services.

“The reality of getting lawyers to agree on a path is a difficult process,” said Drake Nicholas, the former managing partner at Rhoads & Sinon. Before it was disbanded, it was the region’s fifth-largest law firm by number of full-time attorneys.

Nicholas and the general business practice at Rhoads & Sinon — a group of 10 attorneys and 19 people overall — decided their best move was to go bigger but remain with a locally owned firm.

They merged with Lancaster-based Barley Snyder LLP, the region’s No. 2 law firm.

At least three other competing firms have hired other former Rhoads & Sinon attorneys.

Five prominent public finance attorneys from Rhoads & Sinon landed in the Harrisburg office of Pittsburgh-based Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott LLC. Another three banking attorneys joined Stevens & Lee/Griffin’s Harrisburg office. And the chair of Rhoads & Sinon’s environmental practices group moved to Harrisburg-based Mette, Evans & Woodside.

They follow a couple defections over the last year.

In February seven partners and two associates left Rhoads & Sinon to launch Pillar+Aught in Lower Paxton Township.

Harrisburg law firm Penwell Bowman + Curran LLC was formed last summer by former Rhoads & Sinon attorneys.

Regional growth

Of all the lateral moves at now-defunct Rhoads & Sinon, the Barley Snyder announcement was the largest.

Barley Snyder, which now numbers 92 attorneys, also has retained the former Rhoads & Sinon office in the M&T Bank building at the corner of Second and Market streets in Harrisburg.

Managing partner Jeff Lobach sees the large office as a springboard for greater organic growth for the firm, which now has eight offices in Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Having a capital city office has been a goal for several years, Lobach said, given Barley Snyder’s clients in the capital city, as well as the West Shore and Hershey areas.

“This gives us more credibility as a regional firm,” Lobach said.

The Rhoads & Sinon deal is the third strategic move by the firm since Lobach took over as managing partner in 2014. Last April, the firm added three attorneys from the former Stonesifer & Kelley in Hanover. In 2015, it added six attorneys from Hartman Underhill and Brubaker.

Lobach said the Harrisburg deal gives Barley Snyder a cohesive core group of seasoned attorneys.

“It’s a great nucleus to build on,” Lobach said, adding that he expects to hire two more attorneys this month for the Harrisburg office.

Barley Snyder is quickly catching up to Harrisburg-based McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC, the region’s largest law firm, which is hovering around 135 attorneys (see “Top regional law firms”).

McNees Chairman David Kleppinger said he doesn’t see the end of Rhoads & Sinon as creating more competition. The attorneys involved scattered in a variety of directions, and top law firms like McNees are often talking to other groups of attorneys as they grow themselves.

“This time of year is when all moves tend to occur,” Kleppinger said. “I think, to some extent, we will see continued movement.”

Central Pennsylvania’s legal sector, in fact, could benefit from mergers of large national and international firms with regional offices, he said. As those deals are done, attorney serving local clients in smaller markets like Central Pennsylvania may see higher service costs associated with the increased size of their firms. Those attorneys may look to move to lower-cost regional firms.

More expansion

Lobach hinted that more geographic expansion is in the works for Barley Snyder, though he declined to say what communities in Pennsylvania or Maryland might be the firm’s next targets.

However, he did say the firm is looking to grow its team in certain practice areas, including intellectual property, immigration and employment law.

Nicholas, now a Barley Snyder partner who specializes in employee benefits, said he expects the 11,000-square-foot Harrisburg office will grow based on practice needs. He also believes the lateral moves at a firm like Rhoads & Sinon may spark a wave of migration by other midstate attorneys.

Large law firm mergers have become more common lately as merger-and-acquisition activity overall has remained strong, driven by a growing economy, relatively low interest rates, abundant capital and high stock prices. Also in play is pressure on private equity firms to deploy their capital.

Last fall, Saul Ewing merged with Chicago-based Arnstein & Lehr to create an outfit with more than 400 attorneys.

Philadelphia-based Ballard Spahr recently combined its more than 500-attorney force with lawyers from Minneapolis-based Lindquist & Vennum to create a firm with more than 650 attorneys in 15 states.

Top regional law firms

The largest law firm in Central Pennsylvania, by number of full-time local attorneys, is McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC.

The Harrisburg-based firm has 117 local attorneys and 132 overall, according to the latest law firms list compiled by the Business Journal.

Lancaster-based Barley Snyder is No. 2 with 74 local attorneys and 92 overall. That figure includes the 10 attorneys that came over from now-defunct Rhoads & Sinon LLP.

Post & Schell PC, based in Philadelphia, is the third-largest firm in the midstate with 39 local attorneys and 149 overall.

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Jason Scott

Jason Scott

Jason Scott covers state government, real estate and construction, media and marketing, and Dauphin and Cumberland counties. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at jscott@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @JScottJournal.

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