Law Firms Strike Transatlantic Tie-Up

In the latest sign that law firm tie-ups remain active and well, Southeast law firm Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice and Bond Dickinson of the United Kingdom announced they are combining, effective October 1 2017.

Partners at both firms voted to approve the tie-up on Monday, formalizing a strategic alliance the firms struck in June of 2016.

The firms will go by Womble Bond Dickinson and staff more than 1,000 lawyers — including 420 partners — across eight offices in the UK and 15 offices in the United States.

The deal marks the 39th law firm merger or acquisition of 2017, according to a running tally by the consultancy Altman Weil, up slightly from the 36 deals reported by the consultancy through May 31 of 2016. Contributing factors to the consolidation include clients’ reducing the number of outside counsel they hire and competition among law firms to retain clients who seek counsel in various parts of the world.

At Womble Carlyle and Bond Dickinson, firm leaders project the newly combined entity will gross more than $410 million, which would make the firm the No. 82 top grossing U.S. law firm in the most recent 2017 American Lawyer financial rankings.

“We are on both sides of the Atlantic and we are in that very strong middle market space,” said Jonathan Blair, managing partner of Bond Dickinson, who said the two firms decided to join forces after hearing clients ask for counsel in different jurisdictions.

According to Bloomberg Law, Womble Carlyle’s lawyers have appeared in federal courts over the past year for clients such as GlaxoSmithKline, Wells Fargo, Aetna Life Insurance Co. and Volkswagen Group of America Inc. Meanwhile, Bond Dickinson’s clients have included AIG, according to its website, as well as Hilton Hotels & Resorts, HSBC Bank and a number of other financial institutions, according to The Legal 500.

Bond Dickinson focuses on working for clients in eight industry sectors: energy and natural resources, financial institutions, insurance, manufacturing, real estate, retail and consumer goods, transport and infrastructure and private wealth.

With the tie-up, it will add Womble Carlyle’s focus on life sciences and health care, technology and communications.

Betty Temple, chair and CEO of Womble Carlyle, said that the deal is structured in a way — through a company limited by guarantee — that keeps intact the two firms’ independent compensation systems and financial accounting.

That means the two firms will operate under the same brand, but under two separate partnerships and management. However, four members of each firm will be appointed to a global board overseeing the newly combined entity. The board will be co-chaired by Temple and Blair.

Temple said the deal reflects “how well the alliance” struck in 2016 between the firms “has progressed.”

“It was the realization that there was so much opportunity to meet the needs of clients and catapult the capability of each firm, in terms of transatlantic capability.”

Outside advisors on the deal included Peter Zeughauser of Zeughauser Group, brand consultant Acritas, as well as tax accountant PwC, according to Temple.

Other law firm M&A in the first quarter have included Norton Rose Fulbright’s February announcement it will merge with New York-based Chadbourne & Parke and DLA Piper’s acquisitions of Danish firm LETT in Copenhagen and Portugese firm ABBC in Lisbon.

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