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May 26, 2010 10:31 AM

Sonnenschein, Denton Wilde To Merge

Posted by Zach Lowe

Sonnenschein Nath  & Rosenthal and the U.K. firm Denton Wilde Sapte have reached an agreement to merge, creating a 1,400-lawyer firm that will have offices on four continents, according to higher-ups at Sonnenschein we spoke with Wednesday morning.

Sonnenschein and Denton first started discussing a merger late last year as Sonnenschein came to realize Portnoy-2 its international presence--it has just two offices outside the U.S., one in Brussels and one in Zurich--was not sufficient in order for the firm to compete on a global scale, says Elliott Portnoy, Sonnenschein's chair.  "It is an international platform that falls short of what our clients need," Portnoy (pictured left) says. Denton has nine offices in the Middle East and Africa and one in Singapore.  

Denton was a natural fit, Portnoy says. Lawyers at both firms knew each other from working on the Chapter 11 case of the auto parts supplier Federal-Mogul in the early 2000s, and many of the 100 or so lawyers from Thacher Proffitt & Wood who moved to Sonnenschein when Thacher fell apart in late 2008 also had worked with Denton before, Portnoy says. 

Sonnenschein had initial merger discussions with other U.K.-based firms, but none ever turned serious, Portnoy tells us. (He would not name those firms.) The firm was not interested in a less formal cross-border alliance, he says.

At least 75 percent of the partners at both firms must approve the merger in a vote scheduled for June 9, Portnoy says. 

HowardMorris Sonnenschein reported gross revenue of $472.5 million in 2009 and profits per partner of $780,000, which was down about 3 percent from 2008, according to figures from the most recent Am Law 100 survey. The firm reported 655 lawyers, of which 136 are equity partners. Last week, Denton reported that its profits per equity partner jumped 20 percent to about $518,000 for the most recent fiscal year, according to the U.K. publication Legal Week; firm revenue was relatively flat in the last fiscal year at $241.2 million.

Portnoy says the combined firm--to be named SNR Denton--will transition Denton partners onto Sonnenschein's merit-based compensation system and away from the lockstep system Denton uses to pay partners. (The newly merged Hogan Lovells will make a similar change.) Portnoy and Denton CEO Howard Morris (pictured above right) will serve as co-CEOs of the newly combined firm.

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