WolfBlock Brach Eichler: A New Jersey Presence For WolfBlock

Wednesday, September 1, 2004 - 01:00

Editor: Mr. Hammer, would you tell our readers something about your background?

Hammer: I graduated from Rider College in 1968 and Rutgers Law School in 1971. During the summer following my second year at Rutgers I clerked for a small Newark firm named Brach, Eichler, Rosenberg & Silver. I joined the firm following graduation and, in time, became a partner. We have called ourselves Brach Eichler for many years, and when we recently merged with WolfBlock it was deemed appropriate that we call our Roseland, New Jersey office WolfBlock Brach Eichler for some indefinite period of time.

Editor: Please describe your practice.

Hammer: My practice is largely concerned with real estate, including real estate tax appeals as well as transactional matters. I have represented both buyers and sellers of investment properties, including shopping centers, apartment buildings, office buildings, factories and industrial properties, and so on. I also represent both borrowers and lenders on investment real estate matters.

Editor: What kinds of activities was Brach Eichler involved in?

Hammer: We were a general practice firm, but we concentrated on certain areas. This included, in addition to real estate, corporate, tax, land use and environmental, and we have had a particularly strong healthcare practice.

Editor: What were the factors that went into the decision to align the two firms? From Brach Eichler's perspective? From WolfBlock's?

Hammer: I think the single largest factor was the comfort level the people on each side of the discussion had with their counterparts. By way of background, Brach Eichler was a 55-lawyer firm with a very conservative mindset. Until the discussions with WolfBlock it had never merged with another firm, never acquired a practice area and brought in very few lateral partners. As a favor to one of my partners, I agreed to meet with someone he knew from WolfBlock. What started out as a courtesy meeting turned into a substantive discussion, and as it proceeded I discovered that I was feeling very comfortable with the WolfBlock people. That was the first of a series of meetings over a period of several months. During that time everyone at the Brach Eichler end came to the comfort level I had reached early on, and the result was an office called WolfBlock Brach Eichler.

From the Brach Eichler perspective, certainly the best reason for going into an arrangement with WolfBlock was to be part of a larger platform, including having access to new practice areas. This enabled us to provide services to our existing clients that we had not been able to offer in the past. WolfBlock has a very substantial employment law/labor law practice, for instance, and having that resource available has been of great value to us. Our corporate practice was of high quality, but the depth of WolfBlock in that area is such that the corporate work we are doing today is probably of even higher quality than it was in the past. We have been able to access practice areas that, in the past, were simply not available to us.

From the WolfBlock perspective the arrangement was also attractive. The firm has a hundred-year history in Philadelphia, and there are a number of other offices, including one in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Roseland fills in the blanks between our Philadelphia and New York City offices and provides access to North Jersey. In addition, Brach Eichler had some very strong practice areas - healthcare among them - which would serve to enhance the practices WolfBlock had in place. The latter's healthcare practice did not have the depth of Brach Eichler's, so access to Brach Eichler's healthcare attorneys has insured better service for its healthcare clients.

Editor: Can you tell us about the arrangement? Is it a merger or some other relationship?

Hammer: In Philadelphia they kept calling it a merger. We at the Brach Eichler end anticipated being subsumed in an acquisition. In fact, it is a partnership, and we are coming to feel part of a unitary operation that happens to have a number of locations. We - the partners of the larger enterprise - spend a great deal more time together than I had thought would be the case. The Roseland group was included in the recent hundred-year anniversary celebrations in Philadelphia, and we have been involved in events at a number of other offices. I am in daily contact with Philadelphia and regular contact with the firm's New York office. This can be enormously helpful. I had a large year-end deal that I simply could not cover from the Roseland location, but the New York office was able to provide abundant staffing, and the deal was done in a timely manner. Similarly, the New York office has been engaged in a series of rather significant repeat transactions that has involved a number of lawyers from the Roseland office. We are also back and forth with the Philadelphia office on a variety of matters.

Editor: A firm like WolfBlock, with over a century behind it, obviously has developed a very distinctive firm culture. Brach Eichler must have developed a distinct firm culture as well. Has that been a problem, adjusting these two firm cultures to each other?

Hammer: What has made the arrangement so successful, in my estimation, is the similarity of our firm cultures. These are very comfortable, and humane, operations. People work pretty hard, but the hours that we ask of ourselves and of our people are not excessive. I thought that a Philadelphia practice would be something like the New York practices to which I have been exposed, and I am very glad to say that that is not the case. Neither of our firms has a high turnover, and I think it says a great deal when I say that at the one-year mark the Brach Eichler end of the equation has not lost a single partner.

Editor: WolfBlock has been associated with Philadelphia for century; does this arrangement mean that you're beginning to feel like a Philadelphian?

Hammer: No, but then I am a real estate lawyer. My practice has a particularly North Jersey focus. As a result I do not travel to the other offices as much as almost everyone else based in Roseland. I don't see that changing, at least in my case.

Editor: What are the challenges that you face as Managing Partner of the Roseland office?

Hammer: I face the same challenges that managing partners face everywhere. One of the principal ones is finding the capable lawyers that are necessary to a high quality law practice and then convincing them to join your firm. That is difficult in North Jersey because of the proximity to New York. Talented lawyers know they can go to New York and earn more money. It is necessary, therefore, to find ways in which to differentiate your firm, to develop the quality of life argument, and so on. There are, in addition, the challenges of running any business, which revolve around keeping your employees happy and continuing to produce work of the highest quality. Now that I am a part of a larger platform, I find meeting at least some of these challenges a little easier. We have an excellent bench in most disciplines and practice areas. We also have depth in accounting and in firm management that were not there in the past. Having that support has made my job much easier.

Editor: Please tell us about the things that a presence in Roseland brings to the firm as a whole?

Hammer: As I have indicated, our healthcare practice is much deeper than WolfBlock's had been in the past. For that reason, the healthcare practice for the entire firm is now headed by John Fanburg out of the Roseland office. This office also does real estate tax appeals - something that had been done on a very small scale out of the Cherry Hill office - for the entire firm. This is a very large part of the Roseland operation. On personal injury actions, Charles Gormally's group has always maintained a serious volume of business out of Roseland, and that has started to bring in work from other WolfBlock offices. That is also true of Stuart Gladstone's corporate and tax department, which has been a great support to the Philadelphia office.

Although it is early days yet, I can say that I did not expect to see the two firms integrate so well, both the people and the practice areas. One of my partners in Philadelphia made the comment that so far it was pretty much seamless. The Philadelphia office placed Dana Klinges in the Roseland office as what is called the "integration partner." She had performed a similar function when WolfBlock opened an office in New York. I think the basic idea is make certain that everyone feels part of the same firm, neither a free-standing and almost completely autonomous operation that keeps the firm's home office at arms' length, nor a neglected outpost of a very distant headquarters operation. She did this job very well, and it was an extremely valuable exercise from the standpoint of the Brach Eichler group.

Editor: What about the future? Are you trying to expand the Roseland operation? Any thought being given to additional sites in New Jersey?

Hammer: We have been trying to expand the Roseland operation for years, but in a very careful, organic sort of way. I believe that is going to continue. Incremental rather than dramatic growth. We are not looking for any mergers with smaller firms in the area, although we have talked, and continue to talk, to people in practice areas that might complement what we are doing here. As for additional offices in New Jersey, I think we have the state covered with our present sites in Cherry Hill and Roseland. I do not see another New Jersey office in the offing. The New York office, on the other hand, is going to expand, in all probability. I think such an eventuality might have a very positive effect on our activities here because, as I say, we have extensive contacts with that office, as we do with Philadelphia.

Editor: Where would you like the Roseland office to be in, say, five years?

Hammer: I would like to see a larger office, with a few more lawyers and perhaps some additional practice groups to round out the things we are doing at present. It is really about the people. If we can find the people we need to enhance what we do, people who fit into the firm culture that is in place, then substantial growth is not an impossibility. The Brach Eichler arrangement with WolfBlock is turning out to be a very great success. I say this, having been the Brach Eichler partner who was the most skeptical of a merger with a larger firm and who, soon enough, became that development's greatest cheerleader.

Please email the interviewee at ahammer@wolfblock.com with questions about this interview.