Energy law firms continue to grow at Southpointe
When the original Southpointe mixed use business park was being built, the plans called for office, manufacturing and residential space.
As the oil and gas industry overwhelmingly chose Southpointe as its business address, an interesting ancillary development occurred.
The growth of energy firms in the park – which now number around 60 – also fostered a growth of law firms focused on energy issues, which one attorney says has created a legal landscape that is rivaled only by the number of firms in Pittsburgh.
Today, there are more than a half-dozen firms in the park, with virtually all of the most recent tenants bringing energy law skills.
Those firms have also created a demand for more attorneys that have kept people like legal recruiter Dianne McClelland busy.
McClelland, who practiced law from 1985 to 1994, operates McClelland Legal Search, and has worked in legal recruitment since 1996. Today, her placement business, McClelland Legal Search, with offices in Canonsburg and Pittsburgh, has placed 26 attorneys with Southpointe’s largest firm, Burleson LLP.
Kevin Colosimo, managing partner of Burleson, said the Houston-based firm opened at Southpointe in 2009 with two attorneys, and today has 32 working in its Southpointe Centre offices.
“We do work for about 28 different exploration and production companies working in the Marcellus Shale,” Colosimo said.
It turns out Burleson wasn’t the only firm looking for attorneys.
Over the last two years, McClelland, who also places attorneys nationally, said she’s placed a total of 40 lawyers with firms doing work in the oil and gas business in the park.
“When the Marcellus Shale play came to the fore, a lot of attention was placed here, and that’s why firms are coming here,” McClelland said.
While McClelland expects to place more attorneys in oil and gas, she acknowledged that attorneys who make energy their practice aren’t always easy to find.
“A few of the partner-level folks were doing oil and gas work” prior to the area’s energy boom, she said, but few at the associate level were.
“Firms don’t want to poach from competitors, but they’ll hire and train their own group,” she said.
“We’re always looking for bright, ambitious people who want to work in this industry,” Colosimo said. “I look for talent; I don’t look for oil and gas experience.”
Those hired receive extensive training in energy law issues by experienced attorneys from Burleson’s Houston office, he said.
Kristian White, managing member of Steptoe & Johnson’s Southpointe office, said last month that the 99-year-old West Virginia law firm has had energy as a focus since opening in Clarksville, W.Va., in 1913.
It expanded into Pennsylvania in September 2010 with an office in Meadville, opening the Southpointe office two months later with three attorneys and 6,000 square feet of leased space. In June, Steptoe leased another 6,000 square feet in the building, recently adding its 18th attorney.
White said Steptoe has focused on recruiting newly graduated attorneys as well as those from firms outside of the area that have seen a slowdown in business.
The firm recruits at a dozen law schools, including those at Pitt, Penn State and Duquesne, and has also continued to strengthen its energy expertise by hiring attorneys from within the energy industry.
“There are only so many oil and gas attorneys out there,” White said. “So we went to clients and other companies and looked there for oil and gas attorneys.”
The firm also anticipates additional growth, leasing the remaining 12,000 square feet of space on the second floor of Hershey Grandview that takes effect in June.
The growth of law offices in the park also includes expansions by smaller firms.
John Smith of the SmithButz law firm, which represents landowners in energy matters, said the practice opened on Technology Drive in the park in 2005 with two attorneys and now has a total of eight.
Smith said the presence of several larger firms in the park is more akin to the size and scope of law offices found in downtown Pittsburgh.
“I think it’s a credit to Southpointe that (the firms) came here,” said Smith,