Elliott Greenleaf’s Wilmington office was recently profiled in Delaware Law Weekly, a leading publication for legal news to corporate, bankruptcy and legal communities:
ELLIOTT GREENLEAF OFFICE HAS A BUSY BEGINNING IN WILMINGTON
By Elizabeth Bennett
The Wilmington office of Elliott Greenleaf in the Brandywine Building still sports unpacked boxes and unhung pictures, despite having opened its doors in December, evidence of how busy attorneys can get when they launch a new office.
It could also reflect that the newest office of the 45-lawyer firm may not be long for the space it now has on the 14th floor, although it does have the option to stay.
Rafael X. Zahralddin-Aravena, managing shareholder of the Wilmington office, said his firm is weighing its possibilities for permanent space right now, although it will likely stay put through the spring.
“We spent a lot of time getting the kinks worked out,” Zahralddin said.
Elliott Greenleaf is a full-service firm that, until Wilmington, was located entirely in Pennsylvania. Its main office is in Blue Bell and it has sites in Harrisburg, Scranton and Wilkes-Barre.
Zahralddin, formerly with Morris James, said the office’s work right now is in general business law and business formations. He himself has a substantial commercial and bankruptcy practice and says he brought his clients with him.
A graduate of Widener University School of Law, Zahralddin is a former professor of international law who worked at Chapman University in Southern California, among others.
“I really enjoyed my work at Morris James. It has a nice group of guys and is a pleasant place to work,” Zahralddin said. Nonetheless, when someone gives you the opportunity to open an office, it’s hard to pass up, he added.
Although Zahralddin was the first attorney approached by Elliott Greenleaf in the fall, the firm started talking with William M. Kelleher shortly thereafter, on a recommendation from Zahralddin. Both were on board when the office opened its doors.
Kelleher is a shareholder who focuses his practice on commercial litigation. He joined Elliott Greenleaf from the Wilmington office of Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll.
A former deputy attorney general for the Delaware Department of Justice, Kelleher was also law clerk in the Court of Chancery. He said he made the move because his new firm offers more rate flexibility.
“I like doing work for local construction companies and the more flexible rate schedule helps,” Kelleher said. “I can attract smaller to mid-size companies and still maintain a national practice of sorts.”
Kelleher added that “not a small part” of his decision was the chance to work with his friends. He and Zahralddin knew each other from playing rugby in law school, and Kelleher got to know the third attorney in Elliott Greenleaf’s new office during oral arguments.
The third attorney is Neil R. Lapinski, of counsel to the firm, who focuses his practice in the areas of tax, business, commercial and contract litigation. He got to know Zahralddin through Kelleher, and those two thought Lapinski would be a great fit for the new office.
Formerly with the litigation defense firm Swartz Campbell, Lapinski said he chose to join Elliott Greenleaf because he was becoming more of a transactional lawyer.
“When you are in a litigation boutique and you start a transactional practice it is hard to develop it with a narrow platform,” Lapinski said. “At Elliott Greenleaf I interface with clients with a much wider set of needs.”
Zahralddin noted that the litigation experience of all three of them could serve the office well.
“We are each comfortable in the courtroom,” he said.
“I’ve tried jury trials in every court in Delaware that has jury trials,” Lapinski added.
With his background in bankruptcy, Zahralddin can take advantage of that practice. He also said his new firm has an immigration law capability unmatched in Delaware.
Zahralddin speaks Spanish and is versed in international law, and Lapinski has done immigration work in the Polish community.
In addition, noted immigration attorney Akanksha A. Kalra recently joined the Blue Bell office.
“Neil and myself and Akanksha have talked about it and put together marketing materials. We think we are better positioned to do immigration work for corporate clients,” Zahralddin said, explaining that this means working with the kind of skilled employees that corporations need to bring in.
As for growth, Zahralddin said they are open to adding the right people.
“I don’t think we are looking for associates. We are looking for very energetic people who want to develop a business practice,” he said.
The firm has shown it is patient. According to Mark A. Kearney, a hiring shareholder based in Blue Bell who once clerked in the Court of Chancery, the decision to go to into Wilmington was not a recent one.
“We had looked for years for talented people in the Delaware market because so many of our clients have Delaware relationships,” Kearney said. “We see that market as a natural extension of what we’ve done.”
The catch was finding the right person for the task.
“By investing in Rafael we’ve shown, we’re putting a real office down there,” Kearney said.
The goal is for Wilmington to be a self-sufficient office like all the others, Kearney said.
This business model is expressed by the fact the different offices have different names: for example, the Blue Bell office is Elliott Greenleaf & Siedzikowski, but in Harrisburg the third name on the front door is Balaban.
“We were looking to establish high quality attorneys who would like our entrepreneurial business model,” Kearney said.
A Philadelphia office is also on the near horizon, according to Kearney. The firm got its start there, but moved a little outside the city when its office space went up in smoke in the One Meridian Plaza fire in 1991.
The firm bills itself as representing regional clients with national reach, and is home to some well-known members of the Pennsylvania bar.
John M. Elliott, the firm’s chairman and senior shareholder, has more than 39 years of trial and appellate experience in complex commercial litigation. He has served as commissioner of the Delaware River Port Authority and as a member of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission.
Stewart J. Greenleaf is a senior shareholder and a state senator. He is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and a member of the Senate committees on appropriations, banking and insurance, consumer protection and professional licensure.
Another example is Bruce L. Castor Jr., who joined the firm as a shareholder in January after serving as the elected district attorney of Montgomery County, Pa., from 1999 until 2008. He is now the county commissioner for Montgomery County.