There were 106 law firm combinations announced in the United States in 2018 according to Altman Weil MergerLine. This is the highest annual total recorded since 2007 when MergerLine began compiling data, exceeding the record of 102 set in 2017.
Almost everybody in play
The largest combination of the year was a cross-border merger of 900-lawyer US law firm, Bryan Cave and 666-lawyer UK firm Berwin Leighton Paisner. It was one of six large combinations announced in 2018 in which the acquired law firm had more than 100 lawyers, and one of several deals that created new 1,000+ lawyer law firms. Three large Texas-based firms were acquired in the spring of 2018 and two other southern deals rounded out the top six 2018 combinations. ‘Law firms in every segment of the market are interested in merger right now,’ says Altman Weil principal Tom Clay. He explains, ‘the largest firms are making aggressive national and international moves; mid-sized firms are bulking up regionally; and dozens of small firms are pairing up to fortify themselves in local markets. Almost everybody is a potential acquirer or an acquisition target in 2019. We have never seen so many law firms in play.’
A number of factors are driving activity says Mr Clay explains, ‘large and mid-sized firms are seeking additional market share through acquisitions that bring new, high-quality clients to the firm, add or enhance a practice specialty, or give them position or depth in a high-potential geographic market. Small firms are more likely to be acting defensively, based on concerns about long-term sustainability, a recognition of the need for greater investment capital, or as a succession strategy.’ There were 14 cross-border combinations announced, including the Bryan Cave, Berwin Leighton deal. DLA Piper added to its 4,000-lawyer headcount with additions of 60-lawyer Delacour in Copenhagen and 20-lawyer Noguera Larrain & Dulanto in Santiago, Chile. Littler Mendelson also made two international deals, picking up 20-lawyer Reliance in Brussels and 8-lawyer CLINT in Amsterdam. K&L Gates added 34-lawyer Straits Law in Singapore. Eight of the fourteen international combinations were executed by global law firm Dentons which added over 200 lawyers to its 8,100-lawyer headcount.