August 2, 2010 | last updated March 25, 2012 2:31 am

Boston, Providence Firms Setting Up Shop In MetroWest | Day Pitney lures away Mirick attorney

Photo/Brandon Butler
CHANGE UP: William Pezzoni recently left the Worcester-based law firm of Mirick O'Connell to join the Boston office of Day Pitney.

There was something a little different at the annual meeting of the 495/MetroWest Partnership, held in late June at the Milford DoubleTree Hotel.

As usual, there were banners sporting logos for the event's sponsors, which included mainstays like Worcester's biggest law firms, Mirick O'Connell and Bowditch & Dewey. But next to those familiar names was a banner belonging to Day Pitney LLP, a law firm with nine offices across the East Coast including in Boston, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Washington, D.C.

The new banner was a subtle sign to be sure, but one that could portend a shakeup for the MetroWest and Central Massachusetts legal landscape as bigger firms are forced to reach deeper into smaller markets due to the economic slowdown.

Looking West

The partnership meeting marked the first time Day Pitney had sponsored an event in the area, but according to Jonathan Handler, managing partner of the firm's Boston office, it likely will not be the last.

"There's no question that (the MetroWest area and 495 corridor) is, from a perspective of Boston firms, a very underserved and undiscovered market," Handler said. "Obviously there are some very fine firms that are native to the area, some excellent Worcester firms that have a presence there. But in terms of the Boston firms, they have been slow to recognize the potential of the area."

Day Pitney's plans for devoting more resources to MetroWest could mark an evolving legal landscape in the region.

For years it has been common for Worcester-based firms to have offices and clients in MetroWest, but larger Boston firms and even some out-of-state firms are attempting to increase their presence in the region.

Day Pitney beefed up its connection to the area when it hired William Pezzoni as a partner with the firm in May. Pezzoni is a Southborough native who has spent his entire legal career spanning about three decades in Central Massachusetts, including the last five years at Mirick O'Connell, which has offices in Worcester, Westborough and Boston.

Handler said hiring Pezzoni filed a "hole in our lineup" in the firm's Boston office for an established real estate lawyer.

It also increased the firm's name recognition in the region. Pezzoni brings with him strong ties. He remains on the board of directors for not only the 495/MetroWest Partnership but also the MetroWest Chamber of Commerce and the Marlborough Economic Development Corp.

"MetroWest used to just be a lost land that was undefined," Pezzoni said. "Now firms are recognizing the fact there that there is so much business being generated out here, so many jobs, that there is a need for the legal services to serve that."

Along with Day Pitney scooping up Pezzoni and sponsoring events in the area, the 42-attorney Rhode Island firm Partridge Snow & Hahn has plans to open an office in Westborough next month.

Managing Partner David Gilden said original plans for the office were made in 2008 but were shelved until earlier this year. The firm plans to rent about 7,000 square feet of office space at 1700 West Park Drive, a building that also houses Mirick O'Connell offices.

"We think this is fertile ground," Gilden said. "We think we can do very well in this market."

Those familiar with the region's legal scene are not necessarily surprised to see such moves.

"Every once in a while one of the Boston firms will poke its head out this way, but generally it's associated with someone who lives out here who joins the firm," said James Hanrahan, managing partner at Bowditch & Dewey, a Worcester firm with offices in Framingham, Boston and Peterborough, N.H.

While there have been some moves by Boston-based firms to establish offices in the Route 128 area, there has been less of a movement to the 495 market, Hanrahan said. Central Massachusetts, Hanrahan said, is already served by firms like Bowditch & Dewey, Mirick O'Connell, Seder & Chandler LLP and Fletcher, Tilton & Whipple PC, all of which are all located in Worcester and have offices in MetroWest.

"For us, (Framingham) has been home for 20 some odd years. For other firms, there's an attraction given the growing high-tech and biomedical industries that exist in Framingham and in 495," Hanrahan said. "Because of that, we start seeing more lawyers at the 495 events, at the chamber events."

Other MetroWest legal veterans aren't surprised to see the increased attention from new players in the market, but they don't expect major investments by Boston firms moving west.

Peter Barbieri, who is of counsel with Fletcher, Tilton & Whipple and a Holliston resident, said a limiting factor for growth by larger firms in the area could be that a significant portion of businesses in MetroWest are still small- and medium-sized businesses that don't need the large, corporate structure that many Boston firms offer.

"I think it's more of a testing of the waters," said Barbieri about moves into the market by firms that have not traditionally had a presence in the area.

David Surprenant, managing partner at Mirick O'Connell, said he doesn't expect a wave of firms opening Central Massachusetts offices. He wouldn't be surprised, however, to see firms reach outside of their traditional markets. Demand for legal work around the country is down given the recession, so firms may be looking to new markets to see where they can grow their business.

He's not worried about Boston firms or others from out of state stealing market share from Mirick or other firms already in the area, either. The Worcester-based firms, he said, traditionally have a competitive advantage with rates compared to Boston firms, plus they have established client relationships.

Other Boston firms are at least paying attention to the area, even if they are not dedicating specific staff or investing in real estate in MetroWest.

Laurie MacDonald is the director of marketing and business development for Hinckley, Allen & Synder LLP, which has offices in Boston, Providence, Hartford and Concord, N.H. Just because the firm doesn't have an office in the area doesn't mean it's not looking for clients in the neighborhood.

In today's age, she said, technology allows law firms to communicate with customers easily and efficiently without needing to meet them in person.

"It has really changed the practice of law, and it allows you to pretty much represent anyone, no matter where you're sitting in an office," she said. "You don't necessarily need real estate to serve those clients."

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