Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Will Balch and Bingham horn in on longstanding relationship between PNC Bank and Philly's Ballard Spahr in an effort to keep revenue stream flowing?


How is Birmingham's Balch and Bingham law firm going to replace revenue it is likely to lose with the sale of BBVA USA to Pittsburgh-based PNC Bank? The question is a big one because, sources tell Legal Schnauzer, BBVA was Balch's No. 2 money generator, behind only Alabama Power. Also, the question comes as Balch wrestles with scandals on several fronts.

We don't have a definitive answer to the question because public records show PNC has hired a number of outside firms over the years, apparently based on the type of legal services needed. But our research indicates PNC has what might be called a legacy relationship with a law firm that it tends to call on when the chips are really down. That firm is Ballard Spahr of Philadelphia, and according to an article at law360.com (subscription required), PNC and Ballard have a relationship that goes back 70 years. From the article:

In 2019, Ballard Spahr advised 70-year client PNC Bank on a $250 million discretionary line of credit to a consumer products company.

Will Balch try to siphon off PNC funds from Ballard Spahr? Will Balch try to horn in on a business relationship that has survived for seven decades? The answer to both questions, in our estimation, is yes. But will Balch be a cultural fit with PNC? Maybe not.

What kind of reputation does Ballard Spahr enjoy around the country? It's stout. From a recent article about the firm's Finance Department:

National law firm Ballard Spahr has appointed Dominic J. De Simone and Emilie R. Ninan to co-chair the firm’s Finance Department, firm Chair Mark Stewart announced.

Mr. De Simone and Ms. Ninan will oversee strategic direction and performance for Ballard Spahr’s national Finance Department. With more than 120 attorneys across the country, the firm’s Finance Department represents clients across public and private markets in a wide variety of complex debt and equity transactions, bond offerings, and distressed debt matters.

“Ballard has recognized, across-the-board strength in finance. Dom and Emilie have played a critical role in the development and execution of our firm-wide strategy to build on what is a core strength of the firm for the benefit of clients,” Mr. Stewart said. “They have the vision, grit, and skill to help our clients successfully pursue every opportunity presented in today’s fast-moving market.”

Attorneys in the Department—working through cross-disciplinary practice groups focused on specific industry sectors and asset classes—serve clients in several key areas: commercial finance, energy finance, housing finance, project finance, public finance, public-private partnerships and infrastructure, and real estate finance. Last year, they helped clients finance nearly $10 billion in transactions.

Speaking of culture, PNC and Ballard Spahr both seem to value diversity. Meanwhile, Balch and Bingham wrestles with its historic ties to segregationist Gov. George Wallace, including a 1960s highway-funds scandal that had connections to the imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Will that be a shock to the sensibilities PNC Bank has developed? Probably so, as this article suggests:

Ballard Spahr LLP and PNC Bank are partnering for the second year for their 1L Diversity Fellowship Program in Baltimore, which gives law students from diverse backgrounds the chance to work in a law firm and with corporate in-house counsel after completing their first year of law school.

The fellows will be employed by Ballard Spahr as a summer associate this year as part of a paid program that includes a $5,000 scholarship. PNC will host students in the legal department of its Baltimore office for three weeks as part of the fellowship, the companies announced in a statement Wednesday.

“Ballard Spahr places high importance on diversity and inclusion. We’ve found that lawyers with different backgrounds and varied viewpoints bring great insight to the table as we work to create the best solutions for our clients,” said Raymond G. Truitt, Ballard Spahr’s managing partner of finance and operations and a member of the firm’s diversity and inclusion council, in a statement.

“The fellowship provides an invaluable experience to the students that we hope will better prepare them for career success,” added Lisa Stauffer, senior counsel at PNC and vice chair of the legal department’s Diversity & Inclusion Council, in a statement.

As PNC and Ballard have promoted diversity, Balch has engaged in environmental racism that led to the indictments of two partners. That kind of baggage doesn't seem likely to go over at PNC Bank:

        The Ballard Spahr/PNC Bank Fellowship is one of many Ballard Spahr programs to promote                diversity and inclusion at the firm and in the legal profession.

        The firm brought back its “Art of the Pitch” program for second year to help junior partners and             mid-level associates practice pitching the legal services to potential clients. The program was                 designed in response to studies that show women and minorities have fewer chances to pitch, said         Virginia Essandoh, the Ballard Spahr’s chief diversity officer.


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