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Burns & Levinson buys Peabody's R.I. office

September 13, 2002 | Boston Business Journal

Burns & Levinson LLP has acquired the Providence, RI, office of ailing law firm Peabody & Arnold LLP, fueling Burns & Levinson's goal of becoming a larger regional law firm.

The five-attorney Providence office should come under the Burns & Levinson umbrella within the next week and will bring Burns & Levinson's head count to 80 attorneys, including 48 partners.

The firm is growing at a time when other local law firms are laying off attorneys — a year and a half after it lost nearly one-third of its attorneys — or about 40 of its then-110 lawyers — when its insurance-defense group split off to form Donovan Hatem LLP.

In June, the law firm Burns & Levinson acquired a Washington, D.C., presence when it merged with a small patent-law firm, Williams & Associates.

In addition, the firm has hired partners from Peabody & Arnold's Boston office, including Jennifer Lauro, who is now a partner in Burns & Levinson's employment practice, and John Smolak, who was scheduled to start this week as a partner in the real estate practice.

"We are actively and aggressively looking to grow," said Frank Segall, chairman of the finance and real estate groups for Burns & Levinson.

The Providence office is a key to that growth, said Burns & Levinson managing partner David Rosenblatt, noting the firm had been looking to break into the Providence market for a while. Burns & Levinson contacted Peabody & Arnold's Providence office this summer when it became clear Peabody & Arnold was restructuring itself into an insurance-defense and commercial-litigation firm.

Attorneys in the Providence office who will become Burns & Levinson partners are John "Jay" Gowell Jr., Sean Coffey and Paul Sanford, and the office will specialize in real estate development, project development, environmental law and corporate and business litigation.

"We've been running a pretty successful practice here in Providence as the Rhode Island office of a regional law firm, and that's a business model we wanted to continue," said Gowell, who added that his office had entertained offers from other regional and national firms.

But the office faces competition from other regional firms, most notably Edwards & Angell LLP, which has a large presence in Boston as well as 89 attorneys in its Providence office, and Hinckley, Allen & Snyder LLP, which has about 52 attorneys in its Providence office.

Legal industry recruiter Mark Kwatcher, president of Boston-based Kwatcher Legal Placement, praised Rosenblatt's leadership for recreating the law firm over the past few years, as well as the firm's most recent move, which he sees as a boost to the firm's strategic goals.

"He's done a very good job," Kwatcher said. "It's going to help them with their game plan."