Sherrard, German & Kelly, P.C. was formed in 1990 through the merger of three long-established law firms with deep and historic roots in the region. Each of the three firms, Alter, Wright & Barron, Campbell, Sherrard & Burke, and Cooper, German, Kelly & Purcell, P.C., brought years of experience and solid reputations to the new firm.
Alter, Wright & Barron
Alter, Wright & Barron was formed in 1920, as a reorganized law firm from the 1870s, previously known at various times as Lyon, McKee & Mitchell, and Mitchell, McKee & Alter. George E. Alter, one of the named partners, was a distinguished jurist who served as a member of the Council of the prestigious American Law Institute and as Attorney General of Pennsylvania and was a candidate for Governor of Pennsylvania in 1920. Throughout its years, Alter, Wright & Barron represented many prominent Pittsburghers and their industrial enterprises. Lawyers from the firm went on to serve in various elected capacities, both judicial and legislative. Alter, Wright & Barron maintained offices in the first steelframed skyscraper built in Pittsburgh, the Park Building, (corner of Fifth and Smithfield) prior to moving to the First National Bank Building (corner of Fifth and Wood) when it was completed in 1934. Prior to its demolition in 1969, the firm located in the Union National Building and the Commonwealth Building before joining with Sherrard, German & Kelly, P.C in its original location in One Oliver Plaza.
Campbell, Sherrard & Burke
Shortly after the end of World War I, Campbell, Houck & Nixon was established in Pittsburgh, with offices in the Standard Life Building at the corner of Smithfield Street and Fourth Avenue. At the time, Fourth Avenue was known as “Wall Street of Pittsburgh,” being the downtown financial district and the location of several banks, the Pittsburgh Stock Exchange, and other entities involved with the financing of local industries. C. William Campbell was active in representing many oil and gas producers in the region.
The firm changed its name to Campbell, Wick, Houck & Thomas in 1934, and again in 1946 to Campbell, Houck & Thomas. J. Vincent Burke joined the firm following his service as legal counsel to the Secretary of Defense in the latter years of the Eisenhower administration. While in this important position of supervising the largest legal staff in the world, Mr. Burke was intimately involved in one of the most critical international incidents that occurred during the Cold War. In 1960, Francis Gary Powers was shot down over the Soviet Union while piloting a U-2 spy plane. A planned summit between Premier Khrushchev and President Eisenhower was cancelled when the Soviet Union captured Powers alive and displayed him before the world for trial as a spy. J. Vincent Burke was appointed to the team which traveled to the Soviet Union to negotiate the eventual release of Powers. He was awarded the Distinguished Public Service Medal for his service to the U.S. Department of Defense. The United States flag from his office in the Pentagon is maintained to this day in one of our conference rooms. After 1962, the firm name became Campbell, Thomas & Burke.
The firm became known for its expertise in representing major Pittsburgh banks to maintain compliance in consumer credit matters. It was also known, through the career of one of its attorneys, Harlan Casteel, for representing barge companies in admiralty law, which governs conduct and liability of those using navigational waterways, such as Pittsburgh’s three rivers.
By the early 1980s, Campbell, Sherrard & Burke relocated to One Oliver Plaza, at the corner of Sixth and Liberty Avenues which became the location for Sherrard, German & Kelly, P.C. when it was created in 1990.
Cooper, German, Kelly & Purcell, P.C.
Cooper, German, Kelly & Purcell, P.C. was youngest of the firms which combined to form Sherrard, German & Kelly, P.C. It was first established in 1975 by a group of attorneys who were formerly associated with another Pittsburgh law firm. Originally known as Houston, Cooper, Speer & German, Henry Cooper led the new firm with innovative planning for individual estates, particularly with retirement plans for medical practices and soon it became well-known in the Pittsburgh area for its concentration in these new areas of law. Rita Kelly, a member of the firm, attended law school at night during the 1950s while teaching fulltime at local high schools. She was admitted to practice in 1958, at a time when women lawyers were not common and nor immediately accepted within the profession. Her skills and talents brought acceptance and then admiration and respect for her uncompromising professionalism. When her name was added to the firm’s name in 1973, she became one of the first woman attorneys to have her name ‘on the door’ of a major Pittsburgh firm. Her name continues to be used by Sherrard, German & Kelly, P.C. With offices in the Oliver Building, and later the Frick Building and Chatham Center, the firm developed an active and highly-regarded practice for corporate transactions for closely-held businesses and estate planning for business owners and individuals.
A primary reason for the firm’s long-time success, reputation and growth can be greatly attributed to the leadership of Robert D. German. Rob was a proud graduate of Notre Dame and the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and he received his Masters of Law in Taxation from New York University. He then joined Cooper, German, Kelly & Purcell, P.C. to work alongside his father, Ralph German, focusing his practice on corporate law, mergers and acquisitions, non-profit law, tax law, and estate planning. Rob was instrumental in the formation of the firm in 1990 and was the driving force and primary Managing Shareholder of the firm for 25 years. During that period, Rob oversaw the development of Sherrard, German & Kelly, P.C. into one of Pittsburgh’s most well-known and highly-respected law firms. He served as outside corporate counsel and Corporate Secretary for the firm’s long-standing and flagship client II-VI Incorporated and also rose to become a highly-regarded Chairman of the Board of Directors of JDRF International (“JDRF”). His commitment to his work, community and client service and SGK inspired all those around him. Robert D. German passed away on September 6, 2015 following a long battle against acute myeloid leukemia but his reputation, leadership and wisdom continues to propel the firm and all those who knew him.