There were 16 law firm mergers and acquisitions announced in the United States in the first quarter of 2011, according to Altman Weil MergerLine.
More than two thirds of those deals were reported in January 2011, with the pace falling off significantly in February and March.
“The January mergers were likely in the works last fall and were announced to coincide with the new fiscal year,” said Altman Weil principal Ward Bower. “Although we expect 2011 to be a rebound year for law firm mergers, it’s still too early to conclude that the market is back.”
The largest merger announced in the first quarter was the combination of 3,500-lawyer global law firm DLA Piper and its Australian affiliate DLA Phillips Fox, a 600-lawyer firm headquartered in Sydney.
There was a second cross-border deal in the first quarter of 2011.
Dickinson Wright, a Detroit-based firm with 261 lawyers acquired 26-lawyer Aylesworth LLP in Toronto.
These deals continue the 2010 trend of international mergers involving U.S. law firms exemplified by the mergers of Hogan & Hartson and Lovells LLP; Sonnenschein, Nath, Rosenthal and Denton, Wilde, Sapte; and Squire, Sanders, & Dempsey and Hammonds.
The balance of reported 2011 combinations involved either the acquisition of small firms with 20 or fewer lawyers or the merger of two small firms.
These deals followed one of two primary patterns.
Law firms in larger markets made geographic moves to expand into new cities, while firms in smaller markets formed same-city combinations.
“Those firms making geographic moves are acting offensively to gain access to new markets and new clients, while those in smaller markets most likely see growth as a defensive strategy to avoid being marginalized by larger local players,” Bower explained.
In addition to the 16 new law firm combinations announced between January and March this year, there were eight deals announced last year that were finalized on January 1 of this year.
They include the Squire Sanders and Hammonds marriage and Kilpatrick Stockton’s acquisition of Townsend and Townsend and Crew.
The complete list of law firm mergers and acquisitions announced to date in 2011 as well as an archive from prior years and a four-year trend summary are available online at www.altmanweil.com/MergerLine.
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