Roy Powell recalls the early days, following the opening of a Pittsburgh office for law firm Jones Day, as sort of "being out there in the Wild West."
It was in 1989 when seven lawyers started practicing in temporary digs Downtown, with the aim of capturing a share of the city's corporate legal business, said Mr. Powell, a partner who joined from now-defunct Pittsburgh firm Rose Schmidt Hasley & DiSalle.
Though the city was already filled with strong regional law firms, Jones Day saw a niche in offering Pittsburgh clients an established network of nationwide and global offices -- something that Pittsburgh's largest firms, K&L Gates and Reed Smith, were just starting to build at the time.
"That's one area where Jones Day got out in front of the law firms in middle America: We thought we had to be truly national, and then global, because the market was demanding that," said Paul "Mickey" Pohl, a partner who oversaw the launch of the Pittsburgh office. "The Rust Belt was declining, and if you didn't think global, you would be squeezed out."
More than two decades later, Jones Day's strategy appears to have paid off.
With 56 lawyers now occupying three full floors in BNY Mellon Center, the firm is 12th largest in the city. That's well below the size of the flagship offices of K&L and Reed Smith, but on a national level, Jones Day far surpasses the hometown giants.
It has 1,742 attorneys in its domestic offices, putting it at the top of a recently released National Law Journal list, which ranked firms according to their number of lawyers in the U.S.
Jones Day jumped to first place, from third largest on the law journal's list last year.
It also beat the hometown firms based on global revenues, according to an annual ranking of U.S. firms in the May edition of American Lawyer. With 2,450 attorneys in 36 offices worldwide, Jones Day generated gross revenues of $1.65 billion last year, making it seventh biggest. K&L, with nearly 2,000 lawyers worldwide, was 17th with revenues of $1.06 billion; and Reed Smith, with about 1,700 total attorneys, was 19th with revenues of $963 million.
In Pittsburgh, the firm has achieved its goal of winning business from major companies. Its client list includes Bayer Corp., U.S. Steel, H.J. Heinz, MSA, PNC, Dick's Sporting Goods, Bombardier and Education Management Corp. And the firm is counting on the booming energy industry in Western Pennsylvania to generate even more activity.
Among its existing energy clients are Consol Energy, Atlas Energy, Chevron and Reliance Industries. "We have overseas clients investing here in energy plays," said Laura Ellsworth, partner-in-charge of the Pittsburgh office.
A major factor in the firm's steady growth here might be traced back to its beginnings in Cleveland, said Karl Schieneman, former owner of Legal Network, a lawyer staffing firm and now president of Review Less, an electronic discovery consulting business.
"The feel between Pittsburgh and Cleveland was close enough that I think, culturally, they fit well in Pittsburgh. Their roots are as a firm strong in the Midwest and the Rust Belt," he said.
The original practice was formed in Cleveland in 1893, as Blandin & Rice, and among its prominent clients was John D. Rockefeller, the founder of Standard Oil Co., according to a firm history published on its website.
A couple of name changes later, in 1939, it became Jones Day Cockley & Reavis, whose partners included Thomas Jones, a former Ohio State University quarterback, and Luther Day, son of a U.S. Supreme Court justice.
After World War II, the firm set out to recruit graduates from the nation's top law schools, including Antonin Scalia, now on the U.S. Supreme Court.
By the 1970s and '80s, it was aggressively building a presence outside the Midwest, with offices including Los Angeles, Atlanta and Dallas. And by the time Jones Day raised its flag in Pittsburgh, it had established offices in London, Paris and Tokyo, said Mr. Pohl, who worked for the firm in Cleveland and led a team there that explored new markets.
"It was the post-steel industry shakeout, and Pittsburgh had endured some really difficult times," he said. "It was losing population. Still, on the plus side, it had a wonderful collection of corporate headquarters, a wonderful quality of life and it was loaded with great lawyers. There was a lot of competition, so that was keeping rates low and the corporate law departments were very strong."
Among the biggest attractions here, Mr. Pohl said, was that K&L and Reed Smith had not yet developed a strong international footprint. "And the corporations we were wooing here were doing interesting things in other parts of the world," he said.
Since then, Reed Smith and K&L have both made their mark internationally -- Reed Smith operates 23 offices at locations in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East, while K&L has 41 locations in the U.S., Europe, Asia, the Middle East and South America.
Like many law firms that in recent years have tried to build a global identity, and don't want to be tied to one place, Jones Day promotes itself as a firm that matches clients with lawyers who have the right expertise, no matter where the lawyer is located.
"It's an anachronism to say a firm is Cleveland-based or Washington, D.C.-based," said Mr. Pohl. "If a firm is based in only one place, it's probably a mistake."
The firm touts the fact that several of its practice units are run by lawyers in Pittsburgh.
Mr. Powell, for instance, is co-chair of the global construction group, Mr. Pohl heads business and tort litigation for the U.S., and partner Michael Ginsberg heads worldwide training.
"They've developed a very nice brand here," said Mr. Schieneman. "They are now one of the go-to firms in Pittsburgh for the corporate community."
Joyce Gannon: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1580.