In his 23 years as a real estate lawyer in Northern Virginia, Scott Barat — the new managing partner of law firm Pillsbury’s McLean office — has seen how ebbs and flows in the local economy have affected his firm.
During the rise and fall of the local real estate market, and the explosion and retrenchment of dot-coms during the 1990s, Pillsbury’s presence in Northern Virginia fluctuated in kind, going from a dozen lawyers to nearly 100 lawyers before scaling back to its current 45.
Now, as Barat takes over as managing partner for the local office, he is overseeing another period of expansion — driven partly by the churn of the industries that the firm’s Northern Virginia outpost represents, such as real estate, government contracts, intellectual property and technology.
“Now we’re in growth mode again,” said Barat, who represents local real estate owners and developers in construction projects, including that of the region’s tallest office building at 1812 N. Moore in Rosslyn. “I see nothing but construction cranes out my window right now, which is construction lawyer’s favorite bird.”
Barat said one of his goals is to raise the firm’s profile in Virginia by getting more involved in community events such as fundraisers, as well as business groups such as the Northern Virginia Technology Council, where one of the firm’s partners, Craig Chason, is a board member.
“I’d like to focus on getting the firm’s name out there, more than it already is,” he said. “We want Pillsbury to immediately come to mind along with the other top Virginia law firms.”
Shaw Pittman — the District-based legacy firm that Pillsbury Winthrop merged with in 2005 to form Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman — opened its Northern Virginia office in 1984 primarily to represent real estate developers who were just getting interested in Tysons Corner. That was years before many national law firms began setting up in the area during the ’90s to chase legal work in technology and real estate.
“With the dot-com activity, everyone was opening up a Northern Virginia office,” said Barat, who has worked at Pillsbury’s Northern Virginia office since 1991. “It seemed like every other week there was a new one because of all the tech firms out here.”
Like almost every other large law firm, Pillsbury, which has about 700 lawyers around the world including 160 in the Washington region, has been under pressure to grow revenue as demand for law firms’ services shrank during the economic downturn.
“It’s still a challenging legal market because competition is tough, but I think everyone is more optimistic than they were 18 months ago,” Barat said.