Law Firm Mergers on Record Pace in 2013

According to a July 8 AmLaw Daily article, law firm mergers are on course to setting all-time highs halfway through the year. In the first six months of 2013, there have been 39 total tie-ups.

According to Ward Bower of Altman Weil, mergers seem to be the way of the future as a means of achieving growth. Not only is it efficient, it introduces the possibility for synergies and growth on scale that lateral hires that are made here and there do not. In Bower’s own words: “Many firms today are pursuing geographic growth strategies that have them expanding into new regions, which he notes is cheaper in the short term than making lateral hires.” Some notable firms which have struck merger deals recently include:

  • Baker & McKenzie adds 45 from United Arab Emirates firm Habib Al Mulla
  • Missouri-based Husch Blackwell acquires Brown McCarroll, a 67-lawyer Texas firm
  • Philly-based Fox Rothschild merges with 16-lawyer Denver firm Lottner Rubin
  • Philly-based Ballard Spahr adds New York litigation botique Stillman & Friedman
  • Detroit-based Clark Hill joins with Pittsburgh-based Thorp Reed & Armstrong
  • New Orleans-based Adams and Reese adds 23-lawyer SC firm Ellis Lawhorne

The most law firm mergers on record is 70, which occurred in 2008—the same year as the worldwide recession. That year saw an unusually high number of tie ups. As noted AmLaw Daily’s Brian Baxter, 2008 saw “Troutman Sanders ink a tie-up with Washington, D.C.’s Ross, Dixon & Bell, while Charlotte’s Helms Mullis and Kennedy Covington were absorbed into McGuireWoods and K&L Gates, respectively. That same year, the Missouri legal market consolidated following the mergers between Polsinelli Shalton and Shugart Thomson & Kilroy and Blackwell Sanders and Husch & Eppenberger.” Since that time, we have also experienced a number of what Baxter appropriately calls “megamergers” of formerly SNR Denton (now Dentons) and Norton Rose Fulbright. Yet what is happening in 2013 is unprecedented.

This year’s 39 mergers through June have set a blistering pace. If it holds up by continuing at the same rate, the total number of tie-ups will topple 2008’s record-setting year by nearly 10 mergers. The effect that this will have on lateral hiring remains to be seen, but it appears (on the surface at least) to indicate that firms are buying into what Bower and others are saying.

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