Small acquisitions dominate law firm merger activity

Twenty-two law firm mergers and acquisitions were announced in the United States during the first quarter of 2014, according to Altman Weil MergerLine. 

“The trends we tracked in 2013 continue into the first quarter of 2014,” says Altman Weil principal Ward Bower. “Deal volume remains high, but the majority of those deals are acquisitions of very small law firms.” 

Of the 22 law firm combinations announced in January, February and March 2014, 18 were acquisitions of small law firms with 15 or fewer lawyers.  Four deals were more sizeable.

The largest deal announced in the first quarter of 2014 was the combination of Buchanan Ingersoll, a 425-lawyer firm headquartered in Pittsburgh, and Fowler, White, Boggs, a 92-lawyer Florida law firm. 

Cincinnati-based Dinsmore & Shohl added to its headquarters office with the acquisition of 35-lawyer public finance firm Peck, Shaffer, & Williams, pushing the firm over the 500-lawyer mark.

Marshall Dennehey, a 471-lawyer Philadelphia-based insurance defense firm, announced it would expand its New York presence with the addition of 30-lawyer Jones, Hirsch, Connors, Miller, & Bull. 

In the only true merger of the quarter, two mid-sized Tennessee firms combined to jump up the league tables in that state.  Knoxville-based Lewis, King, Krieg, & Waldrop merged with Thomason, Hendrix, Harvey, Johnson, & Mitchell in Memphis to form Lewis Thomason, a new 91-lawyer firm.

There were two additional noteworthy acquisitions.

McCarter & English, a 400-lawyer firm based in Newark NJ acquired 14-lawyer energy boutique, Miller, Balis, & O’Neil, giving them a Washington, D.C. presence. 

AmLaw 100 law firm, Sutherland, Asbill, & Brennan made the only cross-border deal of the quarter, acquiring 5-lawyer Arbis LLP, a London commodities boutique which becomes Sutherland’s first overseas office.

“Each of these deals, whether designed to enhance geographic footprint, practice offerings or depth of expertise, represents an accelerated alternative to slower, more costly organic growth,” according to Bower. “In today’s ultra-competitive environment, law firms are getting more and more interested in ‘buying’ these enhancements rather than ‘building’ them over time.”