A Record Year for US Law Firm Combinations

Dentons dominates the merger scene in 2015

Newtown Square, PA, January 6, 2016 — There were 91 law firm combinations announced in the United States in 2015 according to Altman Weil MergerLine.  This is the highest annual total recorded in the nine years MergerLine has been compiling data, exceeding the total of 88 reported in 2013.  Along with a record number of mergers and acquisitions, 2015 also saw the largest-ever law firm merger between 2,500-lawyer firm, Dentons and 3,600-lawyer Chinese firm, Dacheng.

“Law firm mergers and acquisitions are a primary strategy to acquire new business in a market where demand is flat or constrained,” says Altman Weil principal Ward Bower.  “The record number of deals in 2015 is a reflection of the intense competition among law firms for new work, and we expect the market to remain hot in 2016.”

Dentons announced an unprecedented eight combinations in 2015, including its record-breaking merger with Dacheng.  The firm nearly tripled its ranks with a whirlwind of deals that also added 500-lawyer Australian firm, Gadens; 300-lawyer US firm, McKenna Long & Aldridge; 200-lawyer Singapore firm, Rodyk; 34-lawyer OPF Partners in Luxembourg; and, 6-lawyer RK Adler in New York City.  Dentons closed out 2015 with a December announcement of two acquisitions in Latin America:  50-lawyer Cardenas & Cardenas in Bogota, Colombia, and 25-lawyer Lopez Velarde Heftye & Soria in Mexico City.

When all of its 2015 deals are finalized, Dentons will have over 7,400 lawyers worldwide – about 3,000 more than the next largest law firm.

“Dentons is charting new territory with the degree and speed of their expansion,” according to Bower.  “Even within the verein structure, it will be challenging for them to create and maintain a unified vision and mission for their brand.  The marketplace will be watching with interest to see what comes next.”

Other large US law firms made significant international moves in 2015.  4,200-lawyer DLA Piper combined with 260-lawyer, Canadian firm, Davis LLP.  Morgan Lewis & Bockius, a law firm with over 1,800 lawyers, acquired 80-lawyer Stamford Law Corporation in Singapore. 1,000-lawyer Littler Mendelson added 21-lawyer German law firm, Vangard.

Domestically, Chicago was a destination for five AmLaw law firms.  Nixon Peabody acquired 102-lawyer Ungaretti & Harris in the Windy City. Cozen O’Connor added the 60 lawyers of Meckler Bulger Tilson to its ranks. And Shook Hardy acquired 25-lawyer Grippo & Elden.  Greenberg Traurig and Honigman Miller each made small Chicago acquisitions in 2015.

Texas was also a target market for large law firms last year.  Dykema, a 340-lawyer, Detroit-based law firm, acquired 118 new lawyers through its combination with Cox Smith Matthews, a firm with five Texas offices.  Blank Rome, a 520-lawyer firm headquartered in Philadelphia picked up a 24-lawyer Houston law firm, Wong Cabello. Kilpatrick & Townsend added a 21-lawyer Dallas firm, Crouch & Ramey.  K&L Gates acquired a small firm in Austin, Texas.

Twenty-eight percent of all law firms acquired in 2015 were headquartered in the southern United States, with the largest concentration in Florida and Texas.  Twenty-three percent of acquisitions were of Midwestern law firms, with a focus on Illinois.  Nineteen percent of acquired firms were in the Middle Atlantic states, with a focus on New York. The western US accounted for 18% of acquired firms, with California as the primary target.  Ten percent of deals were cross-border combinations.  Only 3% of 2015 deals involved the acquisition of New England law firms.

Although there were a number of large law firm mergers and acquisitions in 2015, smaller deals predominated.  Of the 91 law firm combinations reported in 2015, 47% were acquisitions of firms with between 2 and 5 lawyers.  An additional 30% of acquisitions were of firms with between 6 and 20 lawyers. Overall 77% of 2015 combinations were acquisitions of law firms with 20 or fewer lawyers.

The complete list of 2015 law firm mergers and acquisitions as well as an archive from prior years and a nine-year trend summary are available online at www.altmanweil.com/MergerLine.

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.

Contact Information

Ward Bower
Principal 
Altman Weil, Inc.   
wbower@altmanweil.com
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