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Law Firm Merger Activity Back on Track Says Hildebrandt

Law firm merger activity picked up during the second quarter of 2010, with a total of ten completed mergers involving U.S.-based law firms, according to Hildebrandt Baker Robbins, leading consultants to the legal industry. This marks a rise in activity from the four completed mergers in the first quarter of 2010, and the nine completed mergers in the second quarter of 2009. Two additional mergers have been announced which are slated to be completed during the third quarter of 2010.

Despite the pickup in activity in the second quarter, merger activity year-to-date still lags that of 2009 by a wide margin with 14 mergers in the first half of 2010 compared with 42 in the first half of 2009.
Lisa Smith, head of Hildebrandt Baker Robbins' Law Firm Strategy and Merger practices, said, "As we predicted, merger activity is back on track after three very quiet quarters. We are seeing significant interest in combinations, including a dramatic increase in interest in cross-border transactions. We expect the second half of the year to continue to show increased merger activity."

The largest merger involving at least one U.S. firm in the second quarter of 2010 was the cross-border merger of equals between Hogan & Hartson and the U.K.'s Lovells. This trans-Atlantic combination is the second largest merger completed since Hildebrandt Baker Robbins began tracking law firm mergers, the largest being the 2005 merger between London's DLA and Chicago's Piper Rudnick Gray Cary. The next-largest pairings in the second quarter were New Jersey law firm McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter and Connecticut-based Pepe & Hazard, and New Orleans' Jones, Walker, Waechter, Poitevent, Carrere & Denegre with Birmingham's Walston Wells & Birchall.

The average size of the smaller firm in second-quarter U.S. mergers was 164 attorneys, compared with the average size of 14 in the second quarter of 2009. The high average figure for the quarter was driven by the Hogan-Lovells merger, with both firms having well over a thousand attorneys each. Three of the mergers involved an acquisition of more than 20 lawyers. Two of the mergers involved firms outside the U.S.: the aforementioned Hogan-Lovells merger, and the combination of San Francisco's Carroll, Burdick & McDonough with Smith & Partners, a European/Asian litigation boutique.

Globally, nine mergers were completed in the second quarter of 2010 involving at least one non-U.S.-based law firm. The largest of these was again the Hogan-Lovells merger. Other large international mergers during the quarter included the pairing of offshore law firms Mourant du Feu & Jeune and Ozannes, and the merger of Spanish law firms Vialegis and Dutilh Abogados. There was one intra-Canadian merger: Atlantic Canada's Cox & Palmer with Halifax firm Goldberg Thompson.

Six international mergers are currently scheduled to be completed during the third quarter of 2010, including the cross-border pairing of Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP with U.K. firm Denton Wilde Sapte to create SNR Denton.

In addition to mergers and acquisitions among law firms, Hildebrandt Baker Robbins tracks office openings around the globe. In the second quarter of 2010, Hildebrandt Baker Robbins tracked 55 office openings, 65 percent of which did not involve a combination with another firm. Thirty of those office openings were in the U.S. The top locations were California, Connecticut, Florida, New York and Texas with three openings each. Other active locations were Washington, D.C., and New Jersey with two openings each. Internationally, Europe had 10 openings, with three in Germany, two in the U.K., two in Switzerland, and one each in France, Guernsey and Turkey. There were five office openings in Australia, three of which were the result of Slater & Gordon's merger with New South Wales law firm Adams Leyland in April 2010. China had six openings, the Middle East had three, and Japan had one new branch office.

NOTE: MergerWatch collects data from published reports, press releases and direct reports from law firms. We include all mergers where the acquired firm has five or more lawyers. Upon routine verification of the data, some historical numbers have been updated since previously issued reports, and the number of mergers contained herein may change as additional mergers are announced.

Courtesy of Thomson Reuters

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