U.S. law firm mergers hit four-year high

There were 21 law firm mergers and acquisitions announced in the United States in the first quarter of 2013, according to Altman Weil MergerLine. It’s the highest number of law firm combinations announced in a single quarter since the first quarter of 2009.

“US law firms continue to grow, primarily through targeted acquisitions,” said Altman Weil principal Ward Bower. “Firms are picking up specialty practices, expanding in strong markets and adding offices in new cities.”

The largest deal announced in the first quarter came at the end of March with the merger of Clark Hill, a 231-lawyer law firm headquartered in Detroit, and Thorp Reed & Armstrong, an 82-lawyer firm based in Pittsburgh.

Another Detroit-based firm, 282-lawyer Dickinson Wright announced its acquisition of 60-lawyer, Phoenix firm Mariscal Weeks McIntyre & Friedlander in January.

“It appears that Detroit-based firms are expanding opportunistically into new markets with greater potential,” according to Bower. “This is a strategy that has been employed successfully in the past by firms based in cities with limited local growth options, like Cleveland and Pittsburgh.”

The other 19 deals announced in January, February and March 2013 were acquisitions of small law firms with fewer than 25 lawyers.
There was broad geographic range to the first quarter law firm combinations.

Five were combinations of Southern law firms; four were combinations of firms in Middle-Atlantic states; four were combinations of law firms in the Western US; one was between two New England law firms; and, seven were multi-regional combinations. In addition to the deals announced between January and March 2013, there were seven law firm mergers and acquisitions announced at the end of 2012 that were finalized in the first quarter of this year.

The most noteworthy of those was global U.S. firm K&L Gates’ combination with 300-lawyer Australian law firm Middletons, bringing K&L’s headcount over the 2,000 lawyer mark. That deal was announced in December and finalized on the first of the year.

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