Weinberg & Green plans Pa. merger Shrinking law firm to join Saul, Ewing of Philadelphia

Challenges began in '80s

Mid-Atlantic pairing to retain Baltimore role, widen services

Legal affairs

September 12, 1998|By Sean Somerville | Sean Somerville,SUN STAFF

Weinberg & Green LLC, an 80-year-old Baltimore business law firm that shrank from about 150 lawyers in the early 1990s to fewer than 70 amid a shrinking legal market, said yesterday that it will merge with Philadelphia-based Saul, Ewing, Remick & Saul LLP.

Charles O. Monk II, managing general member of Weinberg & Green, said the combination with a firm more than twice its size will create a premier mid-Atlantic region firm with 222 lawyers and clients from Maryland to New York.

The new firm will have its headquarters in Philadelphia and will be only slightly smaller than firms such as Piper & Marbury, which has about 300 attorneys.

"Today's law firm model will simply not serve the interests and requirements of ever-consolidating clients, who will require of us additional resources, both in practice expertise and geographic breadth," Monk said. "The model we are creating with Saul, Ewing will address those needs successfully."

John Stoviak, managing partner of Saul, Ewing, a 77-year-old firm that specializes in areas such as securities law, said he had been looking for a partner that excelled in labor and tax law. At the same time, Saul, Ewing was aiming for regional growth.

"Weinberg & Green brought it all together in one package in a firm located in Baltimore," he said. The firms did not disclose financial details of the merger. The new firm will retain the Saul,

Ewing, Remick & Saul name. In Maryland, the firm will be known as Saul, Ewing, Weinberg & Green.

The combination, which becomes effective Oct. 1, marks the third recent significant change in Baltimore's legal landscape. Late last year, Smith, Somerville & Case LLC closed its doors at 100 Light St. Last week, Piper & Marbury, the state's largest firm, said it will move from downtown to a new headquarters in Mount Washington.

Weinberg & Green has endured challenges since the 1980s, largely as a result of a legal market that shrank as recession and corporate takeovers forced many large Baltimore businesses to cede decision-making power to new corporate parents based outside the area.

Job cuts and defections trimmed the number of lawyers at the firm's headquarters, in the NationsBank Center complex at 100 S. Charles St., from 148 as recently as October 1992 to the current 63.

In June 1996, NationsBank threatened to pursue legal remedies for back rent of about $391,000. Last year, the firm succeeded in forcing NationsBank to accommodate its shrinkage by restructuring its lease.

Terms were not disclosed. But the firm, which signed a 15-year lease cutting its square footage from 60,000 to 43,500, said in June that it had "resurfaced as a financially secure firm."

'Strong and vibrant firm'

Saul, Ewing's Stoviak said yesterday that he does not consider any of the firm's past difficulties to be problems. "None of those issues concerns us," he said. "Weinberg & Green has moved past those situations. They had a great 1997. And I think they are a strong and vibrant firm."

Talks between the two firms started more than a year ago, when Weinberg & Green started looking for partners.

"This was a great fit," Monk said. "They had some strengths we were not as strong in, and we had some strengths that they were not as strong in. Our need was to have more lawyers, more research and more reach."

He said, for example, that the Philadelphia firm does a great deal of work in public financing and mergers and acquisitions. Weinberg & Green does much tax, pension and labor work.

The firms also said they have similar cultures, a fit that became evident as talks progressed. "This really is a large service business, and you want the owners of the businesses to work well together," Monk said.

Francis B. Burch Jr., chairman of Piper & Marbury, applauded the move by Weinberg.

"If you're going to be a general practice business law firm, you need to have depth in a number of well-defined areas, and there is a size dimension to that," he said. "On the other hand, doubling the size of lawyers without a sense of whether the practices are complementary doesn't make a lot of sense."

The combination joins Saul, Ewing's 159 lawyers and 201 other employees with Weinberg & Green's 63 lawyers and 65 other employees. The firm's headquarters will be in Philadelphia, but each office will have a local managing partner.

Monk, who will assume that role in Baltimore, also will serve on Saul, Ewing's executive committee and as vice chairman of the firm's litigation department.

Other Weinberg & Green lawyers with leadership roles include Harriet E. Cooperman, who will chair the labor practice; Harry D. Shapiro, chairman of the tax and pension practice; Roger K. Garfink, vice chair of the real estate department; Sheldon S. Satisky, co-chair of the estates and trust practice; and John J. Ghinger III, vice chair of the corporate department.

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