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August 19, 2011 6:09 PM

Ice Miller Adds 90 Lawyers in Merger with Ohio's Schottenstein

Posted by Sara Randazzo

Last January, Ice Miller chief managing partner Phillip Bayt had Ohio on his mind.

The leader of the Indianapolis-based firm was in the market for a merger partner, and had a hunch he'd find one in the neighboring state. Bayt says he considered several possibilities and ultimately narrowed the field of contenders to three. One of those Bayt called to inquire about a potential combination was James Davidson, president of Columbus-based Schottenstein Zox & Dunn

Davidson bit, and, following several months of formal negotiations the firms announced Friday that they will merge under the Ice Miller name as of January 1. The newly merged entity will count 314 attorneys in six offices: Chicago, Cleveland, Columbus, DuPage County, Illinois, Indianapolis, and Washington, D.C.

Ice Miller partners and Schottenstein shareholders approved the merger unanimously in separate votes Monday, says Bayt, who will lead the combined firm as chief managing partner while Davidson serves as one of three deputy managing partners.

Ice Miller, currently Indianapolis's third-largest firm, has 224 attorneys and 100 equity partners spread between Indiana, Illinois, and Washington. Ranked Number 172 on The Am Law 200 in 2010, the firm reported gross revenue of $129 million—up more than 6 percent from 2009—and profits per partner of $655,000. The firm's clients include state and local governments, colleges and universities, the NCAA, and such companies as Angie's List, Fifth Third Bank, and Lucas Oil on business and litigation matters.

Forty-six-year-old Schottenstein is the fourth-largest law firm based in Columbus. It has 90 attorneys, including 56 shareholders, divided between offices in Cleveland and Columbus. The firm's clients include Honey Baked Ham, Big Lots, Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, and many local governments. Both firms also have affiliated lobbying and consulting arms known, respectively, as Ice Miller Strategies and SZD Whiteboard.

Bayt and Davidson say the merger will create new opportunities for their existing practices. Bayt says, for instance, that he expects Ice Miller's expertise in municipal bond and public finance work to complement Schottenstein's representation of local governments. Davidson adds Schottenstein lawyers are  enthusiastic about the chance to deepen their bench strength on major litigation. He says he also sees potential synergies between Ice Miller's employee benefits practice and Schottenstein's labor and employment work.

Ice Miller previously considered a merger in 2008 with Louisville's Greenebaum Doll & McDonald, but those talks broke down in September 2009. Bayt says after that attempt, his firm focused on strengthening what it already had, bulking up its Chicago office and acquiring a 12-attorney office from Wildman Harrold in the Chicago suburb of DuPage County. (Earlier this week, Wildman announced its own merger with Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge). Ice Miller, whose lawyers bills at rates ranging from the the low $200s per hour to the mid-$500s, has found success recruiting lawyers from "megafirms" who have struggled to command the $800 per hour or more rates required by those firms, Bayt says.

An integration consultant will help the two firms combine operations over the next two months, Bayt says.  

Both leaders say the new entity will maintain the Midwestern values that inform their respective firm cultures. "By being bigger we want to make sure we do so at a pace and scale that doesn't cause us to have anything other than the one-on-one relationships we have with clients," Bayt says.

The Ice Miller announcement is the second merger-related development in the Indiana market in a little more than a week. Indianapolis's second-largest firm, Baker & Daniels, confirmed on August 12 it is in merger talks with Minneapolis-based Faegre & Benson.

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