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March 30, 2010 6:17 PM

Bigger Firms Scooping Up Smaller Regional Fish

Posted by Brian Baxter

With the recession helping smaller and midsize firms beat their larger, pricier adversaries for client work, perhaps it's not surprising that some larger regional firms are expanding operations.

In recent weeks Jones Walker, Polsinelli Shughart, and McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter have acquired smaller shops in Alabama, Connecticut, and Missouri.

Jones Walker, a 300-lawyer firm based in New Orleans, announced Monday it would acquire Walston Wells & Birchall, a 22-lawyer firm in Birmingham. 

"This strategic combination in Birmingham continues our expansion in Alabama, expanding the depth of our corporate, finance, and litigation practices," Jones Walker managing partner William Hines told The Birmingham Business Journal. The firm acquired Alabama's Miller Hamilton Snider & Odom in 2008.

In Missouri, 470-lawyer Kansas City firm Polsinelli Shughart continued its rapid growth by acquiring Hendren Andrae, a seven-lawyer firm based in the state capital of Jefferson City.

The Kansas City Business Journal reports the acquisition of Hendren Andrae, known for its local government relations practice, follows the merger between regional rivals that created Polsinelli Shughart in 2009. (According to sibling publication The National Law Journal, with 2009 being the worst year for lawyer head count in three decades, Polsinelli Shughart boasted the highest percentage increase in head count among the largest 250 U.S. firms.)

And last week, Pepe & Hazard, a 44-lawyer firm in Hartford, Conn., announced plans to merge with New Jersey-based McElroy Deutsch. The merger will give McElroy Deutsch significant expertise in white-collar defense and construction law capabilities, The NLJ reports. The combined firm will have nearly 300 lawyers, along with offices throughout the Northeast corridor and an outpost in Denver.

Pepe & Hazard froze billing rates for existing clients in 2009 and has continued to do so in 2010 prior to the merger with McElroy Deutsch. Pepe & Hazard managing partner Al Turco told The NLJ the newly combined firm hopes to continue to offer clients a significant discount from the rates charged by larger firms in Boston and New York.

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