Morris, Manning & Martin, the mid-size law firm with roots in Atlanta, has formed a new D.C.-based real estate practice with two Big Law veterans, the firm announced Wednesday.

Betsy Karmin, a former real estate partner at DLA Piper, and Wendy White, the former head of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman’s D.C. real estate practice, have teamed up to create the new locally based real estate group for Morris Manning. The group will primarily represent real estate developers and investors in real estate transactions including leasing, financing, acquisitions and sales.

Morris Manning is a mostly regional law firm whose first and largest office is in Atlanta. The roughly 250-lawyer firm has four offices in Georgia, one in North Carolina and one in Washington, and small outposts in Taipei and Beijing. The firm’s D.C. office has grown quickly over the past two years, from a handful of lawyers to about 25.

Morris Manning “is really the top real estate firm in Atlanta, but they didn’t have real estate expertise in the D.C. office, so that was the reason for wanting to do that,” Karmin said.

Karmin said the switch will also give her more flexibility with billing rates. Generally, the largest law firms tend to have higher hourly billing rates.

“Some of the largest law firms like DLA are fantastic, but their billing rates are so high they’re really only appropriate for deals of a certain size,” Karmin said. “Morris Manning will give us the opportunity to have a rate structure that’s a little more in keeping with what clients are looking for.”

Karmin and White have been friends and have worked together for 17 years, starting when they were both at Shaw Pittman, the predecessor firm of Pillsbury. White stayed at Pillsbury when Karmin left to join DLA Piper nine years ago, but they continued working together on some projects.

“Now we’re rejoining efforts,” Karmin said. ”It was the opportunity to be entrepreneurial and start something new. We decided that joining together would be even better than trying to move separately. It’s hard to start a [new group] as one single person. This provides us with a little critical mass. We do plan to grow it.”

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