December 9, 2023

From offshore to onshore, law firm merger boom continues

Puzzle-MergersBy Brian Baxter, From the Am Law Daily

Bingham McCutchen and Edwards Wildman Palmer aren’t the only two big firms with strong New England roots making merger-type moves.

Maine-based Verrill Dana, which made it onto sibling publication The National Law Journal’s list of the country’s 350 largest firms by attorney head count this summer, will become the state’s largest firm in January when it absorbs Connecticut’s Levett Rockwood.

Verrill Dana’s managing partner Keith “K.C.” Jones, who joined the Portland-based firm 16 years ago, says the addition of Levett Rockwood’s 20 attorneys will allow his firm to increase its offerings to clients, while maintaining affordable rates. Jones adds that the tie-up with the Westport, Conn.-based firm is not structured as a merger, but a “combination,” one that will become official by year’s end.

The union comes a year after the 152-year-old Verrill Dana completed its first-ever merger by acquiring Friedman Gaythwaite Wolf, a 12-lawyer firm based in Portland. With 140 lawyers after its latest deal, Verrill Dana will surpass Pierce Atwood as Maine’s largest firm, but Jones’ firm has grander plans. (The Verrill Dana leader says his firm envisions itself as the “preeminent regional law firm in New England.”)

In a conversation with The Am Law Daily, Jones says that clients’ increasing expectations are now driving decisions about hiring lawyers more than ever.

“Clients are smart consumers of legal services,” Jones says, explaining that they expect not only superior legal work, but also for attorneys to be able to anticipate their financial needs in an unpredictable economy. “We can provide a lot of services demanded by our clients and do it well at lower rates than Big Law, in part because we don’t have the overhead that they do.”

Levett Rockwood’s attorneys are known for their work on commercial real estate and transactions, capital formation, equity funds and SEC matters, as well as employment, health care, tax and technology law, according to sibling publication The Connecticut Law Tribune.

Though larger firms have periodically indicted their interest in exploring a merger with Verrill Dana, Jones says that right now such an option isn’t on the table. “We aren’t going to fundamentally change who we are,” Jones says, which is something he believes both Verrill Dana attorneys and clients will appreciate.

“A lot of our lawyers have big law experience,” Jones adds. “They left Big Law for a variety of reasons, primarily to practice in a better environment. We’re not going to do anything to adversely affect our ability to offer clients the value they expect and to attract talented lawyers.”

Verrill Dana, which this year earned roughly $300,000 for its work handling the bankruptcy of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, a train operator crippled by costs stemming from an explosion that killed 47 people in Quebec last year, isn’t the only firm looking at new horizons.

In early October, legal consultancy Altman Weil issued a quarterly report outlining a record-setting pace for U.S. law firm mergers in 2014. (It’s worth noting that Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, which is bringing on 750 former Bingham McCutchen lawyers and staffers, calls its deal a “ transaction” as opposed to a merger. Wiley Rein recently did something similar by bringing on 50 lobbyists from McBee Strategic Consulting.)

According to an online database maintained by Altman Weil, the merger mania has continued over the past two months, with regional shops like Boston-based Hinckley, Allen & Snyder pursuing smaller deals and legal giants like Littler Mendelson looking to Peru and DLA Piper heading to suddenly business-friendly Mexico.

Internationally, leading offshore firms Collas Crill and Charles Adams Ritchie & Duckworth announced plans late last month to merge as of Jan. 1 under the Collas Crill banner. The combined firm will have outposts in key offshore jurisdictions in the U.K.’s Channel Islands, the Cayman Islands and Singapore. U.K. publication Legal Week recently reported that a global regulatory crackdown has offshore firms riding high.

British firm BLM, formerly known as Berrymans Lace Mawer, saw its merger with Belfast’s Campbell Fitzpatrick Solicitors go live on Dec. 1. The union pushes the combined firm’s annual gross revenue past $155 million, according to U.K. publication The Lawyer. Further north in Scotland, Aberdeen-based Aberdein Considine recently completed its acquisition of Stirling-based Muirhead Buchanan.

The Asian Lawyer, a sibling publication, reports that Australia’s HWL Ebsworth will expand into the country’s Northern Territory by acquiring 25-lawyer Cridlands MB in a deal that will go live on Feb. 1. The combined firm, which will continue to use the HWL Ebsworth name, will have more than 520 lawyers throughout Australia.

Away from that continent, The Asian Lawyer reports that India’s TMT Law Practice has established a foothold in the southern part of its subcontinent by merging with Chennai-based IP shop APR Associates. Also going live last week with a ceremony in Nairobi was a merger between Hamilton Harrison & Matthews and Oraro & Company, two of Kenya’s largest firms.

George Oraro, a senior partner at Oraro & Company, which is now a 64-lawyer shop called HHM Oraro, told Nairobi’s The Star that the world is changing and firms have to consolidate if they hope to remain relevant. Others have their eye on future merger opportunities.

Bryan Hughes, head of London-based Eversheds, told The Am Law Daily in late November that his firm has its eye on merging with a U.S. counterpart by 2016.

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