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July 9, 2009 12:09 PM

Reports: Law Firm Mergers Slowed in Second Quarter

Posted by Vivian Yee

Legal consultants are reporting that the law firm merger market has dropped off considerably in the second quarter of 2009, with one estimating a 72 percent decrease in mergers from the first quarter. The news comes from The National Law Journal, a sibling publication.

The only large merger in recent months is Bingham McCutchen's announced acquisition of McKee Nelson, reported on in this space on Monday (the move will be counted for the third quarter). With 1100 lawyers between the two firms, that tie-up differs starkly from most law firm mergers in the second quarter, which typically combined offices of five to ten attorneys. The largest merger reported in Q2 involved 115-attorney Norris McLaughlin & Marcus and 35-attorney Tallman, Hudders & Sorrentino.

According to Bill Brennan, a consultant with Altman Weil, author of one of the two reports, the findings aren't surprising. "The last thing people are willing to do right now is make a bold move," he says.

Because acquisitions and mergers usually follow several months of discussions, most of the mergers in the first quarter were relics of the prerecession merger market, Brennan told the NLJ. By the time the second quarter arrived, firms had stopped making deals.

Instead, firms are growing by picking up laterals, small firms, or small groups, consultants say. That does suggest continued interest in merging, but large-scale deals probably won't resume until at least the fourth quarter.

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