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McCarter & English acquires boutique energy firm Miller, Balis & O'Neil

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McCarter & English announced Monday an expansion of its energy law practice in Washington D.C. The acquisition of the 14-lawyer energy law boutique, Miller, Balis & O'Neil, will combine under the McCarter name with 400 attorneys in eight regional offices from Boston to Washington. Newark is McCarter's largest office.

The acquisition was effective on Feb. 1, when the Miller, Balis & O'Neil team joined McCarter's existing Environment and Energy Practice Group, led by Newark-based partner Ira Gottlieb.

McCarter Chairman Michael P. Kelly said the acquired firm "has an impressive list of reputable, established energy companies -- clients who have the luxury of hiring anyone in the world, and they hire Miller Balis. And now we have a presence (in Washington) and we will grow that office."

Kelly said McCarter has been looking to acquire a D.C. firm for several years. The acquisition has allowed McCarter to achieve its long-term goal for a D.C. presence. The search took a while because "We have very high standards, as does Miller Balis. I'm flattered that they saw us as worthy of merging with them."

As a boutique firm specializing in energy, "I think they saw an opportunity to have the best of both worlds: to continue doing what they are doing but have the benefit of access to 400 lawyers in eight offices. It's a win win. They are going to keep what they've been doing and better service their clients. It is all about our desire to better serve our clients and Miller Balis's desire to better serve their clients."

Stephen M. Vajtay, Jr., McCarter's Newark-based firm-wide managing partner, said McCarter has several significant clients in the energy space "And over and over again they have asked us to help them with energy regulatory work which we really haven't had the ability to do. So for some time we were looking for the ability to get more involved in energy regulatory practice, and the vast majority of that is done in Washington. There are very few firms and lawyers outside of Washington that have that expertise."

The Washington office is expected to add lawyers with other specialties besides energy, Vajtay said. He said McCarter practices that will benefit significantly from a D.C. presence include intellectual property, corporate and securities and antitrust. The office "has space for seven additional lawyers and I would be very surprised if we don't fill that space before the year ends."

"The fact that they are primarily an energy firm is all the better because that's a growth area for law. Energy is always going to be front and center of our lives: The world is changing at a rapid pace and energy is changing at an especially rapid pace," Kelly said.

But he said the main driver of the deal "is the fact that they are top flight lawyers who are top flight people."

John P. Gregg, who was managing principal of MBO and will serve as the managing partner of McCarter's Washington office, said "We now can offer every legal service that our exceptionally loyal clients might need, and we, in turn, provide McCarter & English with a much stronger presence and service offering in the energy sector in the Northeast."

Vajtay predicted that the expanding energy practice will help fuel McCarter's growth: "We think that this is going to be an incredibly busy and active practice for the remainder of our professional lives and so I think our investment in this area is going to pay significant dividends," Vajtay said.

In addition to Gregg, joining McCarter & English as partners are John Michael Adragna, Sean T. Beeny, James H. Byrd, James R. Choukas-Bradley, Randolph Lee Elliott, Joshua L. Menter, William T. Miller, and Robert A. O'Neil. Barry Cohen, Denise C. Goulet, and Phyllis G. Kimmel are joining as special counsel along with associates Kevin J. Conoscenti and Jeffrey K. Janicke.

Miller, Balis & O'Neil has represented energy industry clients in regulatory, transactional, government relations, and appellate litigation matters for more than 30 years. The firm's clients include Memphis Light Gas & Water, Seminole Electric Cooperative in Tampa, the American Public Power Association, the gas operations of the cities of Richmond, Virginia and Mesa, Arizona and the Municipal Gas Authority of Georgia.

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