Law firm combinations are taking place at a fast clip through the first half of the year. There have been 51 mergers or consolidations so far in 2018, a pace that is likely to lead to another record-setting year.
Law firms set a record in 2017, with some 102 mergers and acquisitions, and the consolidation wave isn’t slowing. This year, the continued rocky marketplace for legal matters has led to more involvement by larger firms which are adding smaller counterparts, according to the Altman Weil MergerLine, which tracks such combinations.
“Already this year, four U.S. law firms, each with over a hundred lawyers, have traded their independence for the security and heft of a larger platform,” Eric Seeger, an Altman Weil principal, said.
“That says a lot about the intensity of market competition in 2018.”
Most of the mergers and acquisitions—81 percent—were smaller firms, especially those located in the mid-Atlantic states and the western region, including California. Texas has been a popular venue for combinations because its law firm landscape has been roiled by the ebb and flow of work in the fossil fuel industry.
The largest deal announced in the second quarter of this year involved Clark Hill, a 450-lawyer firm based in Detroit. It merged with Strasburger & Price, a 195-lawyer firm out of Dallas.
Strasburger was the third big Texas firm to combine with a larger firm this year. In February, Houston-based Andrews Kurth, with 300 lawyers, merged with Richmond, Va.-based Hunton & Williams, which had some 700 lawyers. Also Gardere Wynne, with 230 lawyers, based out of Dallas said it would combine with Foley & Lardner, a firm of some 850 lawyers.
The other combination involving a law firm with more than 100 lawyers was the consolidation of Nelson Mullins, with 600-plus lawyers, and Florida firm Broad and Cassel, which had 160 lawyers.
The biggest number of lawyer shifts involved global firm Dentons, which acquired over 10 firms, including three it announced July 2: a firm in Hawaii and two in the Caribbean. The Hawaiian firm is Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing, with 44 lawyers. The other firms are Dinner Martin in the Cayman Islands and Delany Law in the eastern Caribbean. The global mega-firm’s headcount exceeds 8,000 lawyers.
This spring, Fox Rothschild, an AmLaw 100 firm out of Philadelphia, combined with Chicago-based Shaw Fishman Glantz & Towbin, with 23 lawyers. The other merger was with the six-lawyer Strong Rollin Braswell Fisher, in Denver.
The pace of activity was slower among the AmLaw 200 largest firms:
- Stinson Leonard Street acquired 16 lawyers from Lackey Hershman in Dallas for its first Texas office.
- Vorys Sater added Beck & Thomas, a 10-lawyer intellectual property boutique in Pittsburgh.
- Goulston & Storrs expanded with Miller & Wrubel’s five lawyers.
- Lathrop Gage grew its Los Angeles office with the addition of 4-lawyer Scheidemantle Law Group.
Those combinations all paled in comparison to the major deal earlier this year between Bryan Cave, the 900-lawyer firm based in St. Louis, with Berwin Leighton Paisner, the 650-lawyer U.K. firm.
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