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July 6, 2011 3:58 PM

Altman Weil: Small Firm Acquisitions Drive Law Firm Merger Market

Posted by Ross Todd

Small firm acquisitions were the driver in an active second quarter of law firm mergers and acquisitions, according to a report released Wednesday by Altman Weil MergerLine. Twelve new combinations were announced from April 1 through June 30, putting the total number for the first two quarters of the year at 28, up 47 percent over the same period in 2010.

Ten of the 12 deals reported in the second quarter of 2011 involved acquisitions of firms with 20 or fewer lawyers and the other two involved acquisitions of firms with fewer than 50. Seven of the 12 acquiring firms had fewer than 200 lawyers. MergerLine tracks law firm combinations as they are announced and reported in the media. 

"In the most desirable acquisition markets, there are few prime law firm targets left," said Altman Weil principal Eric Seeger in a press release. "Many midsize firms have either already merged, have decided to stay independent, or have spun off from larger firms and don't want to go back, so demand is outpacing supply in many markets."

"However, we do see interest among smaller firms being acquired, driven largely by demographics," Seeger said. "A lot of smaller firms are find themselves with aging leaders and rainmakers who are getting ready to retire. Being acquired can be a good succession plan for a firm in that situation." 

The Am Law Daily has reported on several second quarter law firm tie-ups involving Am Law 200 firms. They include:

In April Kelley Drye & Warren announced the acquisition of 15-lawyer Los Angeles entertainment boutique White O'Connor Fink & Brenner.

•That same month, Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, in Winston-Salem, N.C., announced that it acquired 44-lawyer Buist Moore Smythe McGee, one of the oldest and largest firms in Charleston, S.C.

•Also in April, Atlanta-based labor and employment firm Fisher & Phillips announced the acquisition of 19-lawyer Cleveland boutique Millisor + Nobil.

•In June, Blank Rome announced it was acquiring Abrams Scott & Bickley, a nine-lawyer litigation boutique based in Houston. 

•Also in June, Saul Ewing announced the acquisition of Dionne & Gass, a seven-lawyer firm in Boston.

In addition to the 12 new law firm unions covered in the Altman Weil reported, DLA Piper finalized a merger with its Australian affiliate, 600-lawyer DLA Phillips Fox, in early May; the deal had been previously announced in the first quarter. 

As reported Wednesday on The Am Law Daily, Wildman Harrold and Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge announced that the firms are in merger talks, a potential tie-up that could buck the small merger trend if and when it's announced. Edwards Angell has a total of 507 attorneys, while Wildman Harrold has 160.

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