Blank Rome, under a New Chairman, Credits Deep Philly Roots as It Builds a National Future
Grant S. Palmer is the new chairman of Blank Rome, one of the national corporate law firms based in Philadelphia. Past head of the litigation unit, he became managing partner in 2019, and succeeded Alan J. Hofmann as chairman Jan. 1.
Palmer, 59, agreed to talk about how his firm has evolved and how the practice of law has changed since he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania law school in 1989. He and his wife raised their three children in Philadelphia and its suburbs. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What were Blank Rome’s ties to the old Philadelphia establishment? How did you keep growing as the city lost its big companies?
The Penn Central railroad [and its epic 1970 bankruptcy] put us on the map. And we represented almost allof the Philadelphia banks [before they were sold in the 1980s and 1990s]. Under David F. Girard-diCarlo, who joined the board of PNC [in 1995 when it absorbed a pair of Philly-area banks], we transitioned the financial institutions practice into a national practice, one of our core practices. [PNC, based in Pittsburgh, is now the fifth-largest U.S. bank.]
All the major U.S. banks are now our clients. Our financial services, restructuring and bankruptcy practice is now as large as the entire firm was when I joined — 80 lawyers. We have been very intentional in our growth.
What does it mean to be a “Philadelphia law firm” when most clients and many staff are elsewhere?
We started in Philadelphia in 1946. [Almost one-third] of the senior leadership and practice leaders are based in Philadelphia, and a lot of the administration. We are proud of our Philadelphia roots. We’ve been in this office [One Logan Square, 130 N. 18th St.] since 2000, and we just took another 16-year lease.
But we are going to decrease the space. Right now we are on floors 3 through 11. We will give up at least three floors, from the bottom.
As a firm that’s growing nationally, our number-one growth place is in New York City, and New York will soon, probably, be our largest office. We have 343 partners as of today and 664 in all. About 200 of those lawyers are in Philadelphia, maybe 175 are already in New York.
We have other locations. [Blank Rome has offices in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and nine other U.S. cities, plus Philadelphia and Shanghai.]
Diversity has been important to us from the start. The guys who founded the firm couldn’t get a job at any other law firm in Philadelphia; they were Jewish. They focused at first on real estate and corporate practice. They figured that after World War II there would be an explosion of litigation. They were right.
Back then we didn’t set our hourly rates. The Philadelphia Bar Association set a schedule, and the firm adhered to that. The profession has changed: We now increase rates every year. It’s one of the drivers of our business — to figure out the economic model.
How did you come to the law?
My father was a banker and businessman in Chambersburg. He owned a shop downtown, Palmer’s on the Square. I went to Penn Law. I graduated in 1989, got a federal clerkship, and came back to Blank Rome in 1990. Our revenues were less than $50 million. We now do that in a month. Of course, there’s been inflation.
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"Blank Rome, under a New Chairman, Credits Deep Philly Roots as It Builds a National Future," by Joseph N. DiStefano was published in The Philadelphia Inquirer on January 4, 2023.