There were 27 law firm combinations announced in the US in the first quarter of 2019 according to Altman Weil MergerLine. The volume of deals continues unabated after a record-setting 106 law firm mergers and acquisitions recorded in 2018.
All deals announced in the quarter were acquisitions of small law firms with fewer than 20 lawyers. Altman Weil principal Eric Seeger said, “Small, strategic acquisitions usually provide a high-value return on investment.” Mr Seeger explained, “Unlike a lateral group that may not successfully retain their full complement of clients after a move, a whole-firm pick up is more of a sure bet for the acquirer. A well-branded boutique firm can also effectively open doors for the acquirer in a competitive practice or geographic market.” Porter Wright, a 200-lawyer firm based in Columbus, Ohio made the largest acquisition of the quarter, adding 19-lawyer Butler Rubin Saltarelli & Boyd to enter the Chicago market. Littler, a global labor & employment firm based in Los Angeles, continued its European expansion with the acquisition of twelve-lawyer Homble Olsby in Oslo, its first Scandinavian location. In another cross-border deal, Detroit-based Clark Hill acquired nine-lawyer O'Gradys Solicitors in Dublin.
Best succession strategy
Other acquisitions by top tier firms included, Smith Gambrell's acquisition of twelve-lawyer Mazursky Constantine bulking up their Atlanta office with an employee benefits specialty firm; Washington DC-based Arent Fox's addition of seven-lawyer Kay & Merkle in San Francisco; and Fisher Phillips' pick up of six-lawyer Farrington Law in Bethesda, Maryland. Two large firms strengthened their health care practices through acquisitions. Southern regional law firm, Bradley Arant acquired two-lawyer Rogaliner Firm in Dallas; and, Buchalter expanded in Sacramento with two-lawyer Koenig Caprile & Berk. Two thirds of the law firms that made acquisitions in the first quarter of 2019 were firms with under 100 lawyers, and the bulk of these deals were small, same-state combinations in the Middle Atlantic, Midwest and Southern United States. Mr Seeger said, "a lot of small, local combinations arise because of the retirement of a founder or major originator. For a small firm, a merger is often the best succession strategy." The report can be found here.