A longtime top partner at one of the biggest law offices in the Charleston area has left to join a newcomer to the South Carolina legal business.

Richard A. Farrier Jr. is now with K&L Gates LLP, which expanded into the Palmetto State late last year.

Previously, Farrier was the longtime managing partner in the Meeting Street office of Columbia-based Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, where he also was a veteran trial lawyer.

He had been with the Columbia-based firm since 1986.

“Nelson Mullins has been a wonderful home for many years,” Farrier said Thursday. “It brought me to Charleston. It brought me many great things.”

The decision to leave was “very difficult,” he said, adding that K&L Gates provided him with a “great opportunity” to become a partner in its commercial disputes practice.

“It’s a very large firm, and I expect that my practice will grow accordingly,” Farrier said.

So-called lateral moves among lawyers in Charleston have increased over the past year as mergers and newcomers shake up the market.

For example, the 44 lawyers at downtown-based Buist Moore Smythe McGee teamed up 13 months ago with Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, the largest practice based in North Carolina. Around the same time, the regional firm Smith Moore Leatherwood expanded into the market by staffing an office with four local attorneys.

K&L Gates opened its first South Carolina outpost in December after recruiting seven partners from Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein’s downtown practice. The global firm has nearly 2,000 lawyers in 41 offices on four continents.

Nelson Mullins has about 430 attorneys in 13 locations. Farrier’s departure leaves the downtown office with 34 lawyers. Mike Cole has been named acting managing partner, spokeswoman Jan Easterling said.

Reach John McDermott at 937-5572.