Stradley Ronon's New Jersey Office: Expanding Services To Meet Growing Client Needs

Sunday, July 1, 2007 - 01:00

Editor: Would you tell our readers something about your background and professional experience?

Manning: I was raised in Rutherford, N.J. I graduated from Dartmouth College in 1983 with a degree in English. I then joined the faculty at a private school in Bethesda, Md., where I taught English and coached basketball and baseball. Two years later, I left teaching and became a paralegal with a law firm in Washington, D.C. I then started law school in the night program at George Washington University while working at the law firm. After graduating from law school, I joined Stradley Ronon's litigation department in Philadelphia. I left the firm in 1995 for a position with a small private firm, but when Stradley decided to expand its New Jersey presence, I returned in 1997 to work in its Cherry Hill office.

Editor: Going back to your final year of law school, would you share with us the things that attracted you to Stradley?

Manning: In the 1980s, much of what we learned about a firm was based on the written materials that the firm itself provided. At the time, I was looking to join a firm in Philadelphia, and Stradley's information stood out to me as unique. The quality of the work, the level of expertise, and the talents and attitudes of the people at the firm were impressive. I found this most appealing in light of the fact that I was a little older than many of my law school classmates and had some experience working in a law firm setting. Most particularly, it was important for me to find a firm where I was comfortable with the people. The interview process more than confirmed what I read in the firm's description of itself, and I was very glad to accept an offer. My two years away from the firm was my experiment with a different environment in which to practice law. When I decided to return to a larger firm, Stradley was the only choice. The written description of the workplace culture at Stradley that I read over 17 years ago continues to ring true today.

Editor: Would you tell us about your practice? How has it evolved over the course of your career?

Manning: Since I started as an associate at Stradley, I have had a strong focus on business litigation. In recent years, I find myself more involved in healthcare and financial services litigation, usually in federal court. We represent a number of healthcare enterprises, including United Healthcare and Americhoice, and because of ERISA, we usually end up in federal court. The same is true for our financial services clients, where securities law and federally-mandated compliance requirements entail a federal court setting.

Editor: I understand that you are the partner-in-charge of the firm's Cherry Hill office. For starters, would you share with us the firm's strategic thinking in opening the office?

Manning: It was simple: to serve client needs. When we first opened the Cherry Hill office, the primary function was to handle New Jersey litigation for our clients. But we soon discovered that there was a great deal more work we could do for clients, and in 1997, we decided to expand the office. That entailed adding more people and diversifying the expertise we could offer. While the office's practice has had a heavy litigation orientation, we have added depth and other disciplines that our clients most demand - including, advising them on corporate matters related to public companies; employment-related issues; and securities, ERISA and secured transactions. Again, this is a client-driven undertaking. We expanded the office, both in terms of personnel and areas of practice, to meet the needs and requests of our clients.

Editor: Why South Jersey? Most out-of-state firms opt for the northern part of the state when establishing their New Jersey presence.

Manning: Stradley's origins are in Philadelphia, and the city has always had a South Jersey orientation, in contrast to many of the New York firms, which have had a long familiarity with northern New Jersey. In addition, the Cherry Hill location allows us to serve our established base of South Jersey clients and more easily work with our growing group of New Jersey clients across the state. With the technology presently available, we can be as responsive to clients in Bergen County or along the Route 1 corridor as we can with clients located in the office's immediate vicinity.

In recent years, we have increased the volume of work we do for financial services clients, including asset-based lenders, broker-dealers, insurance companies, and so on. This is very sophisticated work, and our success in handling it is one of the principal factors behind the expansion of our Cherry Hill operation in recent years.

Editor: Are there any initiatives that are particular to the Cherry Hill office?

Manning: Recently, Catherine Ward joined us to give us depth in the environmental and real estate areas. In addition, Andrew Weber, former Chief Counsel to N.J. Gov. Florio is now part of our government affairs group - a practice that spans the tri-state area - Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. Andrew's presence has brought a whole new dimension to what we can do in New Jersey. In light of Andrew's experience and knowledge of New Jersey government, in addition to his wealth of relationships from his years in state government, we believe that we now have one of the premier government affairs practices in the region.

Editor: I gather the government relations work entails a considerable volume of lobbying and legislative activities.

Manning: That is correct. We are engaged in promoting legislation on a variety of matters for many clients, in addition to seeking many different types of agency licenses and permits at both the state and the municipal levels. In addition to growing as a consequence of having developed good governmental contacts over time, this practice has grown as a direct result of our clients' needs, particularly in the financial services area. Our government affairs group has enjoyed great success in consistently meeting client goals. In light of what the group has managed to do in recent years, we look for very solid growth and some very noteworthy successes from our government affairs people in the future.

Editor: Would you give us an overview of the Cherry Hill office?

Manning: At present we have 10 lawyers representing practice groups such as litigation, corporate - which breaks down into public company regulation, mergers and acquisitions, and asset-based lending - environmental and real estate work, and government affairs.

At the same time, we are able to call upon the resources - in terms of expertise and personnel - of the entire firm in staffing our projects. Cherry Hill is within an hour of three of the firm's other offices: Philadelphia, Malvern, Pa., and Wilmington, Del., - and only two hours from our Washington, D.C., office. That gives us an opportunity to regularly meet in person to marshal the firm's resources in an effective and efficient manner. In addition, e-mail, the Internet and the electronic sharing of files has made serving our clients through multiple offices virtually seamless.

With respect to clients, many are New Jersey enterprises which have come to us for the particular areas of expertise - including government affairs and litigation - germane to New Jersey. Others are out-of-state companies with operations in New Jersey. We may deal with a New Jersey branch office or with agents or employees of such a company. In other cases we represent out-of-state companies which are regulated by state agencies because of their in-state customers. Mutual fund companies, for example, operate in every state in the country and require a variety of services to remain in compliance with state regulatory agencies. McLane Company, Inc., a Texas distribution enterprise which has entered the New Jersey market in recent years, is a good example of an out-of-state company requiring the attentions of a number of our attorneys across several disciplines and practice groups.

Editor: Stradley Ronon is known for its commitment to community service and diversity. How does the Cherry Hill office fit into the firm's mission in this area?

Manning: Our office takes an active role in numerous professional or business-related organizations including the South Jersey Chamber of Commerce and the Camden County and Burlington County Bar Associations. These organizations are entrees to a variety of community service activities, and all of our attorneys have a strong commitment to giving back to the communities in which we live and work.

We participate in annual fundraising activities for a number of local organizations - including the Salvation Army of Camden and the New Jersey Alliance for Action, a group of business, labor, government and academic leaders working to create jobs and strengthen the state's economy. One of our associates, Marianne Johnston, serves on the governing board of the Junior Women's Club of the Haddon Fortnightly and is co-chair of the organization's Home Life and International Affairs Committee. Another associate, David Garnes, is a member of the Young Professionals Network of the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce and a mentor of the Big Brothers-Big Sisters Association of Philadelphia. Michael Bonner, one of our Cherry Hill partners, is very active with the Knights of Columbus and the local CYO.

Concerning diversity, David Garnes is president of the Barristers' Association of Philadelphia - an organization dedicated to the professional support and advancement of African-American attorneys and legal professionals. The Cherry Hill office is certainly pulling its weight in helping Stradley meet its diversity and community commitments.

Editor: What about the future of the office?

Manning: In light of the fact that client needs continue to increase, I think the future of the Cherry Hill office is very bright. Over the next five years, I would like to see the office continue to expand in size and reach. We intend to expand the firm's presence in New Jersey by building teams of practitioners rather than through the acquisition of individual "stars." I think we have made an excellent start in the commercial litigation, corporate, financial services, real estate, environmental and government affairs areas; and I have every expectation that we will be able to develop capabilities in complementary practice areas, as well as in areas where a client demand arises.

Please email the interviewee at fmanning@stradley.com with questions about this interview.