As Big Law Steps on Their Turf, Midsized Firms Bet on Niche Practices

The Legal Intelligencer 

(by Lizzy McLellan)

As more large firms restructure into multidisciplinary industry-focused groups, the niche practices emerging resemble some of the services midsize firms have been offering for years, or sometimes decades.

With increasing competition in the legal industry, and Big Law more often competing for the middle-market work midsize firms were built on, midsize firm leaders have been bullish about maintaining and expanding their specialized practices.

Babst, Calland, Clements and Zomnir, based in Pittsburgh, was built on a niche focus in environmental law from the start, and has expanded on that over the years, managing shareholder Donald Bluedorn said.

“Our philosophy is to pick specific areas and put together teams with as much sophistication as anyone in the country,” Bluedorn said, then deliver those services “at a lower price point.”

Since, the firm has added other niche practices that grow naturally from its environmental roots. ”We don’t just look for bolt-on practices,” Bluedorn said.

So when the Marcellus Shale play created business opportunities in Pennsylvania, the firm seized on the opportunity to grow an energy practice, which would co-mingle well with environmental law. And when it saw a chance to get involved with pipeline safety, it built on an already established regulatory practice in Washington, D.C., as well as the energy and environmental practices.

“We like to see multiple touchpoints with these areas we have,” Bluedorn said. “We really try to do a very conscious, well-thought-out approach.”

Most recently, the firm has built on that regulatory practice again, bringing together a mobility, transport and safety group to handle matters in the emerging area of unmanned aircraft, driverless cars and space technology. Timothy Goodman, a former U.S. Department of Transportation lawyer, leads that group, which recently added several other lawyers in Washington and Pittsburgh.

Bluedorn said the firm in most instances has added these practices as its lawyers observe shifts in the market, and “consciously identify the opportunity.” After hiring people in those areas, he said, the firm works quickly to educate its lawyers and clients on their practice, so the new niche is not “an island.”

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