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August 22, 2011 2:35 PM

Ailing Florida Firm in Merger Talks with Ohio Shop

Posted by Brian Baxter

After struggling through more than a year of financial troubles, lateral departures, layoffs, and other cost-cutting measures, Florida's Ruden McClosky has entered into merger talks with Cleveland-based Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff, according to sibling publication the Daily Business Review.

Under discussion is a plan that could see Benesch acquire Fort Lauderdale–based Ruden McClosky within the next several weeks, the DBR reports. Benesch, a 175-lawyer firm with offices in Columbus, Ohio; Indianapolis, Philadelphia, New York, White Plains, N.Y., Wilmington, and Shanghai, dispatched some of its lawyers to Ruden's offices at the end of last week to continue the tie-up talks, DBR reports. Both firms declined the DBR's requests for comment on the negotiations.

"We're having a lot of talks with a lot of folks because our strategic plan calls for growth in a lot of practice areas," Benesch managing partner Ira Kaplan told the publication. "But we don't comment until the deals are done."

As previously reported by The Am Law Daily and the DBR, Ruden has been in decline since the beginning of the year, as the Fort Lauderdale-based firm closed three offices in Florida and imposed a 9 percent holdback on partner payPartner defections and lawyer layoffs have reduced Ruden's head count from a peak of more than 200 lawyers several years ago to roughly 85 lawyers—about 50 of them partners—today. The firm publicly denied a year ago that it might dissolve.

Last November, Ruden named Michael Krul as its new managing partner. His mission: help right the ship. In reporting on the talks with Benesch, the DBR cites an August 10 firmwide e-mail from Krul in which he states that the firm "has been and continues to be in active discussions with several firms regarding possible combinations." Krul added in the e-mail that he expects to "know more in the next four-to-six weeks." Ruden said in a statement to the DBR last week that all negotiations were "strictly confidential, and will remain as such."

Should Benesch expand into Florida by merging with Ruden McClosky, it would join a growing list of Midwest-based firms to move into the Sunshine State in recent years. Cleveland-based Squire, Sanders & Dempsey, for instance, merged with Miami-based Steel Hector & Davis in 2005. And, as the DBR notes, Chicago-based Arnstein Lehr, Cleveland-based McDonald Hopkins, and Milwaukee-based Foley & Lardner have all opened offices in Florida in recent years. The Florida Sun Sentinel recently reported that the job market in South Florida has improved for many lawyers.

Word of a potential Ruden/Benesch combination is the latest development in what has so far been a busy month on the law firm merger front.

On Friday, Indianapolis-based Ice Miller announced that it is merging with Schottenstein Zox & Dunn, a 90-lawyer firm based in Columbus. Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge and Wildman, Harrold, Allen & Dixon announced last week that they would officially combine operations on October 1 to create a 14-office, 650-lawyer firm called Edwards Wildman Palmer.

Baker & Daniels recently confirmed it was in merger talks with Minneapolis-based Faegre & Benson, a merger that would yield an 800-lawyer Am Law 100 firm with offices in 13 cities. And the partnership of Squire Sanders approved plans last week to acquire the majority of Australian firm Minter Ellison's Perth office.

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Not so smart from the Benesch people to merge with an ailing, wrongly-managed, old-fashioned moron style Ruden guys, definately NOT a very wise move . . .

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