Altman Weil MergerLine shows that law firm combinations for 2017 top the prior U.S. record

There were 102 law firm combinations announced in the United States in 2017 according to Altman Weil MergerLine, the highest annual total recorded in the 11 years MergerLine has been compiling data, and exceeding the prior record of 91 reported in 2015. 

“The law firm merger market is white hot,” says Altman Weil principal Tom Clay.“Not only is there a broad-based, ongoing interest in acquiring small, high-quality firms to buy market share, but there is also a newly intensifying appetite for larger combinations as more law firms feel the pinch of flattening demand and look for new ways to differentiate themselves from competitors.”

The largest combination of the year was a cross-border merger between 500-lawyer U.S. law firm, Womble Carlyle and 580-lawyer U.K. firm Bond Dickinson, creating a new 1,000-lawyer, transatlantic law firm, Womble Bond Dickinson.

The new Womble Bond firm continued to grow in the fourth quarter, announcing two small acquisitions including: Blakely Sokoloff, a California IP firm, and Bennet & Bennet, a telecom boutique with offices in Maryland and Washington, D.C.

Altogether there were 15 cross-border combinations announced in 2017—also a new record—exceeding the prior high of 11 in 2016. 

Of those deals, seven were executed by global law firm Dentons which added to its 7,800-lawyer base with acquisitions of Maclay Murray & Spens, a 200-lawyer Scottish law firm, Boekel, a 70-lawyer law firm in the Netherlands, as well as small firms in Mexico, Peru, Uganda, Myanmar and Uzbekistan.

Norton Rose Fulbright and DLA Piper, also among the world’s largest law firms, each added to their headcounts with multiple international and domestic acquisitions last year. 

Norton Rose made the largest acquisition of a U.S. law firm in 2017, by bolting on 300-lawyer, New York City-based, Chadbourne & Parke.  The firm added an additional 179 lawyers through its combination with Australian law firm, Henry, Davis, & York, as well as adding the four lawyers of Keller Snyman Schelhase in Cape Town, South Africa.

DLA Piper completed two sizeable international deals in 2017, picking up 150-lawyer Danish firm, LETT and 50-lawyer Portuguese firm, ABBC.  In a third acquisition, the firm doubled its Los Angeles presence after adding 60-lawyer Liner LLP. 

Three mid-sized U.S. firms made significant geographic moves in 2017. Ballard Spahr, a Philadelphia-based firm with more than 500 lawyers, added 136-lawyer, Minneapolis-based Lindquist & Vennum, entering the Midwestern U.S. for the first time.  Saul Ewing, another Philadelphia firm also moved into the Midwest by combining with 140-lawyer, Chicago-based Arnstein & Lehr in to form a new 400-lawyer firm. Detroit-based, 350-lawyer law firm, Clark Hill added its first California and Nevada offices with the acquisition of 90-lawyer Morris, Polich, & Purdy.

In 2017, combinations involving law firms with 21 or more lawyers represented 20% of total deals, while 80% were acquisitions of firms with 2 to 20 lawyers. There was a distinct difference in geographic focus between the two groups. Forty percent of the larger combinations involved international law firms, and another 25% were acquisitions of California law firms. Among the smaller acquisitions of firms with 2 to 20 lawyers there was greater geographic dispersion overall. The top three inbound destinations for small deals in 2017 were Florida, Texas and New York.

The complete list is available at A retrospective report  is available at