US law firm combos explode

Record-shattering quarter for US law firm combinations as 38 deals announced in third quarter.


After a sluggish first half, US law firm mergers and acquisitions exploded in the third quarter of 2019 with 38 new combinations being announced, according to Altman Weil MergerLine.

In every corner

The news was led by a large Midwestern merger which will create a new 600-lawyer law firm and ten cross-border acquisitions by Dentons. “Every corner of the marketplace was on display last quarter,” according to Altman Weil principal and merger advisor Tom Clay. “Big deals, regional plays, AmLaw firms cherry-picking premium boutiques and the meat and potatoes of incremental growth by small firms in local markets.” The largest combination announced in the quarter was the merger of Taft Stettinius, a 474-laywer Midwestern law firm based in Indianapolis with 135-lawyer Minneapolis firm, Briggs and Morgan. Dentons, the largest law firm in the world, will add about 250 lawyers through ten announced international acquisitions, including five law firms in Africa, three in Latin America and one each in South Korea and New Zealand. Dentons' New Zealand acquisition of 113-lawyer Kensington Swan was the second largest combination of the quarter.

Market size

Three mid-sized firms entered new geographic markets through significant acquisitions. Los Angeles-based Buchalter added 22-lawyer Ater Wynne in Portland, Oregon. Spencer Fane, headquartered in Kansas City, acquired 19-lawyer Zimmerman Axelrad in the hot Houston market. Middle-Atlantic firm Offit Kurman opened its first office in the Southeastern US with the acquisition of Horack Talley in Charlotte, NC. Larger firms were more focused on practice plays in the third quarter. Cozen O'Connor added 13-laywer employment law firm Miller Law in San Francisco. Ballard Spahr acquired 7-lawyer Los Angeles media boutique, Leopold Petrich. Nixon Peabody picked up 3-lawyer DC immigration specialists, Frontier Solutions. Womble Bond Dickinson added 2-lawyer IP boutique James Love Legal in Harrogate, England. One third of all deals announced in July, August and September 2019 were those of small law firms, most under 50 lawyers, combining with in-state or same-city colleagues in all regions of the country.

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