Seventy Law Firm Mergers Announced in 2008
Newtown Square, PA, January 14, 2009 — There were 70 new law firm mergers and acquisitions announced in the United States in 2008 according to Altman Weil MergerLine™, an online tracking service hosted by legal management consultancy Altman Weil, Inc. Although the pace of deals slowed in the third and fourth quarters, the total number of mergers was up by 17% from the 60 deals reported in 2007.
“This may be the largest number of law firm combinations ever in a single year in the US,” observed Altman Weil principal Tom Clay. “Even as the economy deteriorated, most mergers went forward as law firms pursued expansion plans. Where deals fell apart, firms may have let short-term fears overcome longer-term strategies.”
Two of the biggest deals announced this year involved the acquisition of two Charlotte, North Carolina firms. K&L Gates, a 1,500-lawyer firm headquartered in Pittsburgh, acquired 175-lawyer Kennedy Covington. Richmond-based, 750-lawyer McGuire Woods combined with 145-lawyer firm, Helms Mulls.
Two additional noteworthy combinations also targeted southern law firms. Bryan Cave, a 950-lawyer firm based in St. Louis, combined with Atlanta-based Powell Goldstein; and Bradley Arant, itself a southern firm with 250 lawyers in Birmingham AL and other cities, merged with Nashville’s Boult Cummings.
“Forty-four percent of all 2008 mergers, both large and small, involved at least one southern law firm,” according to Tom Clay. “The incursion of major national firms into key secondary markets like Charlotte and Nashville may in turn be driving small and mid-sized southern firms to combine defensively in order to stay competitive.”
Two mid-western mergers also stood out in 2008. Polsinelli Shalton and Shugart Thomson, both headquartered in Kansas City, announced they would combine to form a new 480-lawyer mid-western powerhouse. Cincinnati-based, 200-lawyer Taft Stettinius merged with 100-lawyer Indianapolis firm Sommer Barnard.
Combinations involving firms in the western US were down significantly from 2007. The only major deal arose when Alston & Bird, an 800-lawyer Atlanta-based firm, acquired 80-lawyer, Los Angeles firm Weston Benshoof.
“The desire to acquire West Coast firms remains high,” Clay commented. “Until now, most western firms have been uninterested in merger overtures, but as the economy slows that may change.”
Overall, of the 70 combinations announced, the majority were regional deals, including: 31% in the South, 19% in the Middle-Atlantic region, 17% in the Mid-West, 9% in the western US, and 3% in New England. Another 19% were multi-regional deals – two thirds of which involved southern firms. An additional 3% were cross-border combinations.
The complete list of law firm mergers and acquisitions is available online at www.altmanweil.com/MergerLine.
In the first two weeks of January, nine new law firm combinations have already been announced, signaling a strong, ongoing merger market in the new year.
“Large law firms with clean balance sheets will continue to pursue opportunities aggressively; and smaller firms, fearful of the economic downturn, will be looking for safe havens in larger firms,” predicts Clay. “There are secondary and tertiary markets out there that are still relatively untapped and should be fertile ground for acquisitive law firms.”
About Altman Weil MergerLine™
Altman Weil MergerLine™ logs law firm combinations as they are reported by media outlets and in press releases; links the user to the original news stories; and, compiles key statistics on each deal. The online service also includes an archive of past mergers and a section of commentary and analysis. Learn more at www.altmanweil.com/MergerLine.
About Altman Weil
Founded in 1970, Altman Weil, Inc. is dedicated exclusively to the legal profession. It provides management consulting services to law firms, law departments and legal vendors worldwide. The firm is independently owned by its professional consultants, who have backgrounds in law, industry, finance, marketing, administration and government. More information on Altman Weil can be found at www.altmanweil.com.