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August 30, 2011 3:58 PM

Jones Walker Merges with Mississippi Firm to Fill Out Gulf Coast Presence

Posted by Brian Baxter

Jones, Walker, Waechter, Poitevent, Carrère & Denègre is expanding into Mississippi by acquiring 67 lawyers through a merger with Watkins Ludlam Winter & Stennis, the firms announced in a joint statement on Tuesday.

The merger gives New Orleans–based Jones Walker three offices in Mississippi located in Gulfport, Jackson, and Olive Branch. The deal follows recent expansion efforts by Jones Walker in Alabama--where the firm acquired Birmingham-based Walston Walls & Birchall last year and Mobile-based Miller, Hamilton, Snider & Odom in 2008--and Louisiana where it bought out Lafayette-based Longman Russo three years ago.

The addition of Watkins Ludlam will fill out Jones Walker's presence in the Gulf Coast, where the firm also has offices in Florida and Texas. The larger footprint will help improve Jones Walker's ability to serve clients that operate across the region, according to the firm's managing partner William Hines.

Watkins Ludlam's practice areas include corporate, banking and financial services, construction, gambling, government relations, public finance, tax, and real estate. Hines praised Watkins Ludlam for its deep ties to Mississippi--the state's former Democratic governor William Winter is a name partner at the Jackson-based firm.

"They're one of the two-or-three oldest, most prominent firms in Mississippi, and I thought when we went there we would end up acquiring a small group of lawyers," Hines says in an interview. "Instead we got a whole, first-tier law firm, which made a decision a year ago to go regional. They initially contacted us and said their plan to go regional themselves would take a number of years, or they could merge with a firm like ours, and I'm quite pleased that they did."

Jones Walker will have about 375 lawyers after the merger. The firm also has offices in Miami, Phoenix, and Washington, D.C. Hines said he expected the firm to have more than 400 lawyers by August 2012 through "organic growth." The firm is considering "one or two more acquisitions" on the horizon that could come in either 2012 or 2013.

The union, which was approved by both partnerships this month, is scheduled to become effective on or before January 1, 2012. Watkins Ludlam will assume the Jones Walker name.

William Dossett, chairman of Watkins Ludlam's board, told The Am Law Daily that his firm was in merger talks with Jones Walker for several weeks prior to Tuesday's announcement. He declined to comment on whether any other firms also approached Watkins Ludlam about acquiring its operations.

Jones Walker traditionally relied on veteran law firm consultant Bradford Hildebrandt, chairman and founder of HBR Consulting (spun off by Thomson Reuters earlier this year), for advice on acquisitions. But for its tie-up with Watkins Ludlam, Hines says Jones Walker did the work alone.

Jones Walker is one of many large New Orleans-based firms representing defendants in litigation tied to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last year. Watkins Ludlam also handled natural disaster-related defense work, having represented insurance defendants in litigation linked to Hurricane Katrina.

Jones Walker also teamed with Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz to advise long-time telecommunications client CenturyTel--renamed CenturyLink in 2010--on its $10.6 billion acquisition of Qwest Communications last year.

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