106 US Law Firm Mergers & Acquisitions in 2018

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"We have never seen so many law firms in play."

January 7, 2019 — There were 106 law firm combinations announced in the United States in 2018 according to Altman Weil MergerLine. This is the highest annual total recorded since 2007 when MergerLine began compiling data, exceeding the record of 102 set in 2017.

“Law firms in every segment of the market are interested in merger right now," says Altman Weil principal Tom Clay.  "The largest firms are making aggressive national and international moves; mid-sized firms are bulking up regionally; and dozens of small firms are pairing up to fortify themselves in local markets.  Almost everybody is a potential acquirer or an acquisition target in 2019 – we have never seen so many law firms in play."

"There are a number of drivers of merger activity," Clay explains. "Large and mid-sized firms are seeking additional market share through acquisitions that bring new, high-quality clients to the firm, add or enhance a practice specialty, or give them position or depth in a high-potential geographic market.  Small firms are more likely to be acting defensively, based on concerns about long-term sustainability, a recognition of the need for greater investment capital, or as a succession strategy."

The largest combination of the year was a cross-border merger of 900-lawyer US law firm, Bryan Cave and 666-lawyer UK firm Berwin Leighton Paisner. It was one of six large combinations announced in 2018 in which the acquired law firm had more than 100 lawyers, and one of several deals that created new 1,000+ lawyer law firms. 

Three large Texas-based firms were acquired in the spring of 2018.  Hunton & Williams, a 683-lawyer, Richmond-based firm merged with 311-lawyer, Houston-based Andrews Kurth – the largest acquisition of a US firm in 2018.  Foley & Lardner, an 849-lawyer firm based in Milwaukee combined with Dallas-based Gardere Wynne, adding 233 lawyers.  Clark Hill, a 450-lawyer firm headquartered in Detroit added 195-lawyer, Dallas-based Strasburger & Price.

Two other southern deals rounded out the top six 2018 combinations.  Nelson Mullins, an Atlanta-based law firm with 584 lawyers acquired 160-lawyer Florida law firm, Broad and Cassel. Philadelphia-based Fox Rothschild added 131-lawyer Smith Moore Leatherwood based in Greensboro NC bringing it close to the 1,000-lawyer mark.

There were 14 cross-border combinations announced in 2018 including the Bryan Cave, Berwin Leighton deal.  DLA Piper added to its 4,000-lawyer headcount with additions of 60-lawyer Delacour in Copenhagen and 20-lawyer Noguera Larrain & Dulanto in Santiago, Chile.  Littler Mendelson also made two international deals, picking up 20-lawyer Reliance in Brussels and 8-lawyer CLINT in Amsterdam. K&L Gates added 34-lawyer Straits Law in Singapore.

Eight of the fourteen international combinations were executed by global law firm Dentons which added over 200 lawyers to its 8,100-lawyer headcount through acquisitions of law firms in Indonesia, Kenya, Chile, Malaysia, Barbados, Mauritius and the Cayman Islands.  This follows Dentons' seven international acquisitions in 2017.

In other noteworthy deals, Washington DC-based, Am Law 100 firm Venable acquired 96-lawyer New York City IP boutique, Fitzpatrick Cella Harper & Scinto. Burr & Forman in Birmingham AL added 84-lawyer McNair in Columbia SC.  Arent Fox announced it would combine with Posternak Blankstein & Lund, a 55-lawyer Boston law firm. And, Dentons made a US acquisition of 44-lawyer Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing in Honolulu.

In 2018, acquisitions of law firms with 21 or more lawyers represented 20% of total deals, while 80% were acquisitions of small firms with 2 to 20 lawyers.  Acquisition patterns can be best understood by breaking the market down by type of acquirer.

Am Law 100 law firms made larger deals, focusing on international markets and the southern and western United States. Am Law 200 firms were more likely to target mid-sized firms in the South, West and Middle Atlantic regions of the US. 

Deals by smaller acquirers were more geographically dispersed across the US. In 91% of these combinations, both acquirer and acquired firms were headquartered in the same geographic region; 66% were same-state combinations. 

The complete list of law firm mergers and acquisitions announced in 2018 as well as reports and analysis of the law firm merger market since 2007 are available online at www.altmanweil.com/MergerLine.

About Altman Weil MergerLine™
Altman Weil MergerLine™ logs law firm combinations as they are reported by media outlets and in press releases; links the user to the original news stories; and, compiles key statistics on each deal.  The online service also includes an archive of past mergers and a section of commentary and analysis.  Learn more at www.altmanweil.com/MergerLine.
About Altman Weil
Founded in 1970, Altman Weil, Inc. is dedicated exclusively to the legal profession.  It provides management consulting services to law firms, law departments and legal vendors worldwide.   The firm is independently owned by its professional consultants, who have backgrounds in law, industry, finance, marketing, administration and government.   More information on Altman Weil can be found at www.altmanweil.com.

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Thomas S. Clay
Altman Weil, Inc.
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