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December 6, 2011 9:01 AM

Bryan Cave to Combine with Holme Roberts & Owen

Posted by Brian Baxter

In a Mile High comeback that would make Tim Tebow proud, Denver-based Holme Roberts & Owen has reached a merger deal with Bryan Cave, the two Am Law 200 firms announced early Tuesday.

The two firms' partnerships have approved the move to join forces as a single firm to be known as Bryan Cave after the tie-up becomes official on January 1. The merger will expand Bryan Cave's reach into the Rocky Mountain region and give it more than 1,100 lawyers in offices in 26 cities.

"Combining with [Holme Roberts] represents a unique opportunity for both firms to expand the resources we can offer to our clients while reinforcing a shared culture dedicated to superior client service," Bryan Cave chairman Don Lents said in a statement announcing the merger. "Extending our geographic reach while expanding the range of our services in California are important steps in our firm's long-term growth."

The Am Law Daily reported last week that the firms were involved in serious merger talks. For Holme Roberts, the possibility of combining with a larger firm emerged amid an operational restructuring launched in the wake of a round of staff layoffs and a spate of high-profile partner departures. Randall Miller, who took over as the 175-lawyer firm's managing partner in May, has been busy the past few months talking with potential suitors.

Miller, who will become a member of Bryan Cave's management committee and the head of its three Colorado offices, admitted to The Am Law Daily late Monday that he felt a touch of sadness at seeing the Holme Roberts name disappear. The firm's Boulder, Colorado Springs, and Denver offices will operate for the next 18 months as Bryan Cave HRO before dropping the three-letter suffix.

"A changing of the guard at a 118-year-old institution [like Holme Roberts] is a big deal," Miller says. "But it's such a good fit with so many parallels that excitement is still the primary emotion."

A strategic review of the Colorado-based firm's operations—commissioned by Miller and firm management earlier this year and handled by its outside legal consultants at Altman Weil—determined that becoming part of a national firm would better help Holme Roberts continue to serve its clients. Miller says that Holme Roberts had received interest from several other firms, which he declined to name, before formal merger talks with Bryan Cave gained steam over the summer.

Lents, chair of 900-lawyer Bryan Cave, confirmed to The Am Law Daily late Monday that his firm had been in discussions with Holme Roberts for "several months." He said Bryan Cave and Holme Roberts have mutual client relationships in the technology, financial services, and manufacturing industries, and that there were no major client conflicts between the firms.

Holme Roberts's presence in the Rocky Mountain region, coupled with its expertise in the natural resources, energy, and mining sectors, was particularly attractive to Bryan Cave. "Those industries are a growing part of the economy worldwide," Lents said.

In addition to the three offices in Colorado, the merger gives Bryan Cave an outpost in Salt Lake City, where Holme Roberts lost 27 lawyers—16 of them partners—earlier this year to Rocky Mountain rival Holland & Hart. While Lents said Bryan Cave will take a close look at whether it wants to keep the Salt Lake office open, Miller believes there is "serious growth potential" in the Rockies.

Holme Roberts's offices in Los Angeles and San Francisco will gradually be integrated into their Bryan Cave counterparts, while Holme Roberts's affiliated offices in Dublin and London have not yet decided whether to merge with Bryan Cave. Miller says that the European affiliates are in the process of "determining the best fit" for their future.

Miller says the two firms' shared history as regional firms helped draw them together. Holme Roberts's executive committee and a subcommittee evaluating merger proposals from other firms helped close the deal with Bryan Cave, Miller says. Holme Roberts chair Paul Smith in Boulder will become a member of Bryan Cave's executive committee.

Miller says Bryan Cave's model of keeping regional billing rates for clients intact while at the same time offering a full variety of services to clients made the firm an appealing partner. He says both Holme Roberts and Bryan Cave believe in providing counsel to clients on a "life cycle" of more generalized engagements, rather than focusing on more specialized "one-off" assignments.

In 2010, Holme Roberts saw gross revenue slip 0.5 percent to $104 million, while profits per partner increased 24.6 percent, according to the most recent Am Law 200 financial data. As for Bryan Cave, Am Law data shows that the firm's gross revenue fell nearly 3 percent in 2010, to $539.5 million; profits per partner increased 14.6 percent to $705,000. (The American Lawyer reported last year on how aggressive cost-cutting was helping firms suffering declines in gross revenue boost their profits per partner.)

The merger will make Bryan Cave one of the 25 largest law firms in the world, according to The American Lawyer's most recent Global 100 rankings. Both Bryan Cave and Holme Roberts saw their respective head counts drop in 2010, with the former trimming almost 100 lawyers from its ranks, according to data compiled by sibling publication The National Law Journal.

Meanwhile, Bryan Cave—itself the product of mergers with New York's Robinson Silverman Pearce Aronsohn & Berman in 2002 and Atlanta's Powell Goldstein in 2009—isn't the only firm to announce a major acquisition this week.

U.K. publication Legal Week also reported that partners at one of China's largest domestic firms, King & Wood, have voted in favor of a merger with major Australian firm Mallesons Stephen Jaques. The Am Law Daily and sibling publication The Asian Lawyer have previously reported on the deal that will go live under the King & Wood Mallesons brand next year. The international merger, which will be organized under the Swiss verein structure, would be the largest ever involving a major Chinese domestic firm.

In another notable move, Latham & Watkins announced Monday that it has added five lawyers to its Milan office by acquiring local litigation boutique Degli Occhi e Associati.

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