Pace of law firm mergers, acquisitions continues

After a record year in 2017, the pace of U.S. law firm combinations continued unabated in the first quarter of 2018 according to Altman Weil MergerLine. 

Thirty deals were announced in January, February and March 2018, including three mergers that will result in three new law firms — each with over 1,000 lawyers. 

Two of the three largest combinations involved Am Law 100 law firms combining with Texas-based Am Law 200 firms. 

In February, Hunton, & Williams, a Richmond, Virginia based firm with about 700 lawyers entered into a merger agreement with 300-lawyer Houston-based Andrews Kurth. 

At the end of March, 850-lawyer Milwaukee-based Foley & Lardner announced a combination with Gardere, Wynne, Sewell, a 230-lawyer law firm headquartered in Dallas.

“Texas has been one of the most desirable in-bound destinations for law firm mergers, acquisitions and lateral hires over the last few years, but big deals like this are rare even in a prime market,” says Altman Weil Principal Tom Clay.  “Intensifying market competition is making sizeable law firms with hundreds of lawyers receptive to merger offers that they would never have considered a few years ago.”

The largest deal of the quarter was the announced merger of Bryan Cave, a 900-lawyer, U.S. law firm based in St. Louis and 650-lawyer U.K.-based law firm Berwin Leighton Paisner. 

This follows a pattern of U.S.-U.K. combinations over the last decade, including last year’s combination of Womble Carlyle and Bond Dickinson to form the new 1,000-lawyer, transatlantic law firm, Womble Bond.

There were eight additional cross-border combinations announced in the first quarter.

Seven of the eight were acquisitions by mega-firm Dentons, which will add a total of 170 new lawyers from law firms in Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Mauritius, Barbados and the Cayman Islands to its 8,100-lawyer roster. 

DLA Piper, a 4,000-lawyer international firm based in New York, will acquire a 20-lawyer firm in Santiago, Chile. 

Small acquisitions of firms with twenty or fewer lawyers accounted for 73 percent of all combinations in the first quarter of 2018. For these deals, acquirers’ primary focus was the Southern U.S. with Florida as the top in-bound destination. 

Four AmLaw firms made small U.S. acquisitions in the quarter.

Archer & Greiner opened a New York City office with seven-lawyer bankruptcy firm DiConza, Traurig, Kadish.

Fisher Phillips grew its Seattle presence with six-lawyer labor & employment boutique, Michael & Alexander. Akerman added six professional liability experts by acquiring Ackerman Law Group in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney acquired three-lawyer immigration law boutique Weiss Alden & Polo in Miami.


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