Center City law firm Cozen O'Connor, following on its Friday announcement that it had opened a Pittsburgh office with three lawyers from the firm of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, said it was bringing on 17 additional Buchanan lawyers.

The new lawyers joined Cozen's offices in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Buchanan, which is headquartered in Pittsburgh, also has a large office in Philadelphia.

Cozen said the lawyers will bolster its labor and employment practice, commercial litigation, and other areas. Among the clients of the group are Philadelphia Media Networks, the owner of the Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com. Other clients include Jefferson Health System, the School District of Philadelphia and SEPTA.

Michael Heller, Cozen's CEO and president, said it has become increasingly difficult for labor and employment lawyers at mid-size firms to succeed while being confined to one region. The addition of Buchanan labor and employment lawyers will bolster Cozen's plan to make its practice national in scope, he said.

"We believe that firms like ours with a national platform will be able to compete very effectively," he said.

The recruitment of the Buchanan lawyers began last summer over drinks, and the talks quickly accelerated. Heller maintained that during the talks, a selling point for Cozen was that, in an era of flat or declining legal revenue, the firm was forging ahead with new business sidelines, including a stand-alone small claims subrogation business, that add to its profitability. The subrogation business involves non-lawyers who collect damages from parties responsible for accidents for insurance companies.

Cozen, founded in the late 1960s to represent mainly insurance industry clients, has been on a steady growth path in recent years, expanding even through the downturn in the legal market during the recession in 2008 and 2009. It has branched out considerably beyond its insurance industry roots, and its practice areas comprise labor and employment, transactional law and corporate matters, among many others.

With 650 lawyers, it is one of the larger firms in Philadelphia, but not of the size of global giants such as Center City-based Morgan Lewis, which has nearly 2,000 lawyers, or even Dechert, another global firm based in Philadelphia with just under 1,000 lawyers.

Over the last two years, Cozen has made a number of acquisitions, including the addition of 60 lawyers in Chicago from the firm of Meckler Bulger Tilson, who also bolstered the firm's labor and employment group, and 10 lawyers from Dickstein Shapiro, among others.