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7 Ex-Drinker Biddle Lawyers Form New Environmental Firm
As lateral movement continues in Pennsylvania's energy and environment bars, a seven-lawyer group of environmental, energy and land use attorneys have left Drinker Biddle & Reath to form their own boutique firm in the Philadelphia suburbs.
The group, led by the former managing partner of Drinker Biddle's now-closed Berwyn, Pa., office, David J. Brooman, opened Brooman Buzzell & Garber on June 20.;bm,l/
Joining Brooman at the new firm as partners are former Drinker Biddle counsel David W. Buzzell and Maryanne Starr Garber, as well as former Drinker Biddle associates Mark C. Hammond and Deborah L. Shuff, all of whom worked in the Berwyn office.
Former Drinker Biddle associates Winifred M. Branton and Leigh Bausinger have also joined the firm as of counsel and as an associate, respectively.
Brooman's wife, attorney Gardenia L. Brooman, will also work at the firm on a "project basis," handling both legal and compliance issues.
David Brooman, who shepherded a group of 23 environmental lawyers into Drinker Biddle in 1995 from now-defunct Philadelphia-based Cohen Shapiro Polisher Shiekman & Cohen, said the decision to leave the firm where he's been a partner for the past 16 years was a difficult one.
"I love that place," he said.
But, following Drinker Biddle's decision last fall to shutter its Berwyn office and move the location's 30 lawyers to its Philadelphia office, Brooman said Buzzell, Hammond and Garber came to him and expressed an interest in leaving the firm.
"They came to me and said: 'We want to leave. Have you thought about going out on your own?' and I looked up and said, 'You're not kidding, are you?'" recounted Brooman.
Brooman, who actually had made the move to Drinker Biddle's headquarters, said the firm was retaining space in Berwyn until the end of this year, but the rest of his group was reluctant to move to Center City with a practice that is largely based in suburban Philadelphia and New Jersey.
But that was only part of the reason.
Brooman said Buzzell, Branton, Hammond and Shuff also recognized that they had little chance of ever making partner at Drinker Biddle because the firm's environmental practice had already become too "top-heavy."
"There was simply no more room at the inn," he said, adding, "It's a hard time to become a partner at a large law firm if you came straight out of law school."
Brooman, Buzzell, Branton, Hammond and Shuff were the first to break away from Drinker Biddle to start the new firm, with Branton and Bausinger joining soon after.
Brooman said Branton, who began her career at the state Department of Environmental Protection, will likely become a partner at Brooman Buzzell when she's ready to return to practicing full time.
Adding Bausinger, he said, was "just logical."
"We definitely need a couple of associates right away," he said.
Brooman said clients are "ecstatic" about the new firm.
"Their lawyers are all going to be their same lawyers -- we have the critical mass to continue the work -- and the rates are going down," he said.
According to Brooman, the rate reduction is only a slight one, since his rate had already been about $120 per hour below his peers while at Drinker Biddle.
Drinker Biddle Chairman Alfred W. Putnam Jr. said the firm was sorry to see Brooman and his group leave and acknowledged that they would take some work with them, but didn't think it would affect his firm's business.
"I'm not sure there's a particular hole that's going to be left," he said. "Those guys were good lawyers, but I think they'll be able to go and take some work with them and I think they'll be fine and we'll be fine. It's not going to be traumatic to anybody."
Both Brooman and Putnam said the two firms plan to continue to work together.
Brooman said he is currently working on at least 15 matters with his former Drinker Biddle colleagues that originated while he was still at the firm, and he plans to collaborate with the firm in the future when his group needs added depth.
"Candidly, I am very limited," he said. "Our firm is a boutique, and we have always needed top real estate, corporate and tax talent. We'll look to Drinker Biddle & Reath for that."
Brooman, who began practicing in 1981 as part of what he calls "the second generation" of environmental lawyers, said he's optimistic about the practice for the first time in years.
"I think the environmental bar is going back to the way it was in the '80s," he said. "Everyone was busy, everyone had fun. It was a great bar because it was still small and everyone respected each other and liked each other."
One of the major issues in the environmental practice today involves air because there's so much "real science in terms of the impact carbon monoxide and other pollutants are having on global warming," Brooman said.
In addition, environmental litigation "will keep us going for at least another generation," Brooman said.
Meanwhile, the economic downturn "is driving back the need for jobs, the need for revenue and the need for new tax sources," he said.
First and foremost in each of those categories, Brooman said, is energy and, in particular, the Marcellus Shale play.
"The Marcellus Shale will dominate for a while," he said. "It may dominate the landscape for my career."
Similarly, the waste industry, which his group has represented since 1986, is poised to enter a period of "innovation and creation" as recycling, reuse and conservation continue to be hot topics, according to Brooman.
Brooman said he also anticipates real estate development will pick up soon, particularly with regard to brownfields sites, which his group specializes in.
"That will always be hot because those properties are opportunities as much as they are liabilities," he said.
Brooman's group is only the latest collective of environmental and energy attorneys to make moves recently, though most of those have occurred in Western Pennsylvania thus far.
Last July, Clifford B. Levine and Alice B. Mitinger left Pittsburgh-based Thorp Reed & Armstrong to join Cohen & Grigsby as directors, in part to bolster its land use, energy and governmental law practices in anticipation of the Marcellus Shale matters.
Last September, Houston energy firm Burleson hired energy lawyers from Thorp Reed, Hogan Lovells, Meyer Unkovic & Scott and Reed Smith to open an office near Pittsburgh.
Soon after, West Virginia-based Steptoe & Johnson hired several energy lawyers from the now-defunct Culbertson Weiss Schetroma & Schug to open a Western Pennsylvania office.
In April, Houston-based Fulbright & Jaworski added six energy lawyers from K&L Gates, including partner Kenneth S. Komoroski, to open its own Pittsburgh area location.