Law firm merger market continues to accelerate

2017 is shaping up as a record year for U.S. law firm mergers and acquisitions, according to Altman Weil MergerLine. There have been 52 combinations announced through mid-year, including 24 in the second quarter, topping the prior mid-year peak of 48 in 2015 and 2016. Cross-border combinations are also on track to reach an all-time high in 2017.

"The chief driver of combinations is the battle for market share that's being waged in response to flat or decreasing demand for law firm services, and we don't expect that to change any time soon," says Altman Weil principal Eric Seeger. "Law firms of all sizes are vying to acquire new clients, expand into new markets, and upgrade their brands through quality combinations. Many of the largest U.S. firms are now routinely looking outside the domestic market for those opportunities."

The largest deal announced in the second quarter of 2017 was the merger of 500-lawyer U.S. law firm, Womble Carlyle and 580-lawyer UK firm Bond Dickinson. Effective in October, the combination will result in a new 1,000+ lawyer transatlantic firm, Womble Bond Dickinson.

There were five additional cross-border acquisitions announced in the quarter, and eleven total in the first six months of the year. That matches the full-year total for 2016, which is the record high according to MergerLine.

Norton Rose Fulbright announced in June that they would combine with Henry Davis York, a 179-lawyer firm with three offices in Australia. Dentons will acquire 18-lawyer Gallo Barrios Pickmann in Peru, as well as Livingstons Legal, a 5-lawyer law firm in Myanmar.

Between 2007 and 2016, 21% of all U.S. cross-border combinations involved UK-based firms, and the trend continues into 2017 as two U.S.-UK deals were announced in May. Kennedys, a 975-lawyer international insurance law firm based in London, acquired 88-lawyer U.S. insurance firm, Carroll, McNulty, & Kull. U.S. labor and employment firm, Littler Mendelson added 16-lawyer GQ Employment Law in the UK.

Several AmLaw 100 firms made significant, small U.S. acquisitions in the quarter. Hogan Lovells entered the Boston market for the first time with 25-lawyer litigation and life sciences firm, Collora. Fox Rothschild expanded into the Pacific Northwest with its first Seattle office, via the acquisition of 39-lawyer Riddell Williams. Boies Schiller grew its California presence, adding 26-lawyer litigation boutique, Caldwell, Leslie & Proctor in Los Angeles.

Acquisitions of law firms with twenty or fewer lawyers accounted for 71% of all combinations in the second quarter of 2017, slightly under the ten-year average of 78% for this category of acquisitions. For these deals, acquirers' primary focu.s. was the Midwest, including firms in Ohio, Indiana, Missouri and Michigan, and the Southern U.S., including firms in Florida and Texas.

The complete list of law firm mergers and acquisitions announced to date in 2017 is available online at www.altmanweil.com/MergerLine. A retrospective report and analysis of MergerLine data since its inception, Ten Years of Law Firm Mergers and Acquisitions: 2007-2016, was released in March 2017 and is available to download at www.altmanweil.com/AWML10.

Published: Mon, Jul 17, 2017

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