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January 6, 2011 1:11 PM

Law Firm Mergers Surge in Last Quarter of 2010; Dickinson Wright Expands in Canada

Posted by Brian Baxter

An analysis by law firm consultancy Altman Weil has found that law firm mergers were fewer in 2010 than previous years, but picked up late in the year, according to The Legal Intelligencer, a sibling publication.

There were 39 law firm combinations last year, down from 53 in 2009 and 70 in 2008, The Intelligencer reports. But fourth-quarter announcements accounted for 38 percent of the 2010 totals--15 law firm tie-ups were announced in the last four months of the year.

The mergers ranged from massive transatlantic combinations--such as those between Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal and Denton Wilde Sapte and Squire, Sanders & Dempsey and Hammonds--to smaller moves like Drinker Biddle & Reath doubling the size of its Los Angeles office in December by acquiring six-lawyer Eisenberg Raizman. (Altman Weil's MergerLine has the complete breakdown on 2010's U.S. law firm mergers.)

Altman Weil principal Ward Bower said in a statement that the "upswing in law firm merger activity in the fourth quarter is a leading indicator of what we expect will be a busy year for law firm combinations in 2011."

The 2011 merger season kicked off on Tuesday with Detroit-based Am Law 200 firm Dickinson Wright announcing its combination with 25-lawyer Toronto shop Aylesworth.

Dickinson Wright CEO William Burgess tells The Am Law Daily that the firm had been eyeing Aylesworth, a 150-year-old firm based in downtown Toronto, for several months. The combination expands Dickinson Wright's presence in Toronto from six lawyers predominantly focused on gaming law to 30 lawyers handling general corporate, litigation, finance, real estate, and trusts and estates work.

"We had been working on this for several months, but it officially became effective on January 1," Burgess says. He declined to discuss the profit allocations of the Toronto office, which will effectively operate as a separate entity from Dickinson Wright's domestic law practice in the U.S., other than to say, "in Ontario we have a professional LLP affiliate."

Burgess says Aylesworth's longevity and the breadth and complementary nature of the firm's practice areas contributed to Dickinson's interest in pursuing a combination. The Detroit-based firm remains open to other opportunities in Canada, a hot spot for law firm mergers in recent months, but Burgess says the firm focused on solidifying the Aylesworth deal. (The Financial Post and Canadian Lawyer have more on Aylesworth's merger.)

According to the latest Am Law 200 financial data, 230-lawyer Dickinson Wright had gross revenues of $106 million in 2009, with profits per partner of $450,000.

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