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14 U.S. law firms merge in Q1 2012

Study finds that M&A activity is holding steady compared to recent years

It’s steady as she goes for law firms so far this year when it comes to mergers and acquisitions. A survey released yesterday by legal consultancy Altman Weil Inc. says that 2012’s M&A activity continues the rebound of law firm combinations that began in Q3 2010 and held firm through all of 2011.

In Q1 2012, there have been 14 mergers and acquisitions announced in the U.S., which is on pace compared to 16 in Q1 2011 and about 15 over the past six quarters. This is in line with pre-recession levels, Altman Weil says.

According to the study, there typically are one or two major law firm mergers announced in Q1 each year, as well as a number of smaller ones, and this year is no exception. In mid-January, Washington, D.C.-based McKenna Long & Aldridge and San Diego-based Luce, Forward, Hamilton & Scripps announced that they would tie the knot on March 1. The combined firm retained the McKenna Long & Aldridge moniker, and employs more than 600 attorneys and public policy advisors in 15 offices across the U.S. and abroad.

Altman Weil noted that five large law firms made geographic moves with small, strategic acquisitions in the first quarter: K&L Gates acquired Marini Salsi Picciau in Milan—the firm’s first Italian office. Littler Mendelson acquired Memphis, Tenn.-based labor and employment firm Kiesewetter Wise Kaplan Prather. Jackson Lewis combined with Milwaukee firm Simandl & Prentice. Baker Donelson acquired Houston-based Drucker Rutledge & Smith. Womble Carlyle acquired Hall & Bowers in Columbia, S.C. And Carroll, Burdick & McDonough, a 72-lawyer, San Francisco-based firm, combined with Schweiger & Partners, a five-lawyer, intellectual property boutique with offices in Germany and Singapore.

“In this type of combination, the larger firm is able to acquire new client relationships in new markets and the smaller firm is able to execute a transition that works for the partners and their clients,” Altman Weil Principal Eric Seeger said in the study.

In addition to these moves, there were 11 deals announced in Q4 2011 that were finalized in Q1 2012, which also is congruent with normal merger patterns. Of these 11 pacts, some of the most notable are Bryan Cave’s acquisition of Holme Roberts & Owen, and the merger between Faegre & Benson and Baker & Daniels.

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