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Nashville Boom, Health Care Fuel Epstein Becker Green Growth Bet

Nov. 4, 2022, 9:30 AM

Epstein Becker Green, five years after opening an office in Nashville, Tenn., is counting on its health care strength to fend off Big Law rivals in the now-hot legal market.

The office has grown to roughly a dozen lawyers and the firm Nov. 1 announced its hire of John Tishler, who counsels creditors and debtors in bankruptcy proceedings in health care, from local firm Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis.

Epstein Becker is moving from its temporary location in the city to new space in the South Gulch neighborhood with quick access to major health systems. Doubling the firm’s size in Nashville is a “very doable proposition” in the near future, said Mark Lutes, chair of the firm’s board of directors.

He’s not alone with growth ambitions. K&L Gates, Jackson Lewis and Womble Bond Dickinson have all opened offices in Nashville in the last year. Holland & Knight is said to be in merger talks with 260-lawyer Waller Lansden, according to media reports.

The area’s economic growth is drawing attention. Historically known as a health care center, Nashville has lured tech companies such as Amazon.com Inc. and Oracle Corp. and startups such as PaintJet robotics, known legally as Foreman Technologies Inc.

Nashville had the most economic growth of any large US metropolitan area in 2021, according to Stessa Inc., a real estate investment company that analyzed data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the US Census Bureau and Redfin.

“You have this combination of things going on here in Nashville that have created quite the boom economy,” said Tishler, who led Waller Lansden from 2008 to 2014.

Healthcare Haven

Nashville is home to more than 500 healthcare companies that do business nationally and internationally and generate more than $92 billion in revenue annually. The headquarters of 17 publicly traded healthcare companies are in the area, which supports more than 570,000 healthcare jobs.

“It is the Silicon Valley of for-profit healthcare,” said Christopher Dunn, leader of Epstein Becker’s healthcare construction team, who joined Epstein Becker in January from Waller Lansden.

The firm’s clients including Aetna Life Insurance Co., The New York and Presbyterian Hospitals, Quest Diagnostics Inc., and Rite Aid Corp, according to Bloomberg litigation data. In 2020, Epstein Becker partner Paul Gilbert was hired as Rite Aid Corp.’s general counsel.

Epstein Becker is using its existing healthcare clients to gain a foothold in the competitive market, said Nashville-based Barbara Mayden, a former Big Law attorney turned legal recruiter at Young Mayden.

“Where it would have been very hard for them to break into a big way to the Nashville market 20 years ago, all of a sudden, they can do it,” she said.

Epstein Becker also specializes in labor and employment and commercial litigation.

Big Law Moves In

Homegrown law firms such as Bass, Berry & Sims and Waller Lansden were the largest players in the Nashville market for decades. In recent years, a number of regional firms, including Frost Brown Todd and Adams and Reese, entered the scene, said Candice Reed, executive vice president of legal recruiter Latitude.

“One of the reasons that the local Nashville firm has been so successful is because they have been able to service the same sophisticated clients at hourly rates that historically are lower than those rates of the large firms,” said Reed, partner in charge of Latitude’s Tennessee operations.

All of that changed once K&L Gates moved into Nashville in 2021. The firm added more than 25 lawyers from Waller Lansden, Butler Snow, Dickinson Wright and Bass, and Berry & Sims.

Remote work has allowed national firms to leverage their flexibility hiring attorneys in and around Nashville for a firm that might be based in New York or Atlanta, Reed said.

The influx of Big Law prompted bidding wars for area legal talent, forcing local firms to pay young associates more to prevent them from fleeing, she said.

“Now that the big boys are coming in, a lot of people are going to want to be one of the big boys,” Mayden said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Meghan Tribe in New York at mtribe@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com; John Hughes at jhughes@bloombergindustry.com