It’s been awhile since we’ve looked at law firm mergers.
One reason to revisit this topic is the publication of BlawgWorld 2007. Yours truly has an entry on the “Urge to Merge” by certain law firms; the entire issue can be downloaded here (Three clicks to find my contribution, starting with the “Blawgs” tab on top). It’s a rather large file, but quite innovative in design and packed with a lot of interesting articles, tech answers and solution providers. (See if you can find this weblog on the cover; and even this writer on page two, the “Preface,” after refreshments were served at the pre-launch party eons ago…)
Bringing this subject up to date, the most recent example may be the report that K&L Gates and Hughes & Luce are planning to hook up:
In a company press release, Edward Coultas, Hughes & Luce’s managing partner, said, “We are eager to explore this strategic opportunity for our clients and our respective firms. A true global platform created by the proposed merger would heighten the combined firm’s ability to serve clients in Texas, throughout the United States and around the world.”
There it is again, that word platform. Sound familiar?
The New York Times also had a recent report (Select content) about goings on with US law firms in Europe, focusing on Americans in Paris:
Perhaps the most aggressive hunter has been Latham & Watkins, of San Francisco, which devised an international expansion strategy with McKinsey in the late 1990s, then began talks in 2002 with Ashurst of Britain about a merger, which failed. Hardly had the dust settled on those talks when Latham hired away Ashurst’s entire private equity team in Paris, then it proceeded the following year to raid Ashurst’s Munich office. Last year, Latham snatched up Gaby EickstÃ¤dt of Ashurst, one of Germany’s leading antitrust experts. Earlier, the firm pulled off perhaps its biggest coup, hiring 95 lawyers from the Paris office of Stibbe, a law firm based in Amsterdam.
The cherry-pick sometimes appears to be a quicker and more direct way to grow than merging outright.
In an era of the primacy of profits-per-partner and the euphemistically termed “de-equitizing,” law firm mergers seem a bit old-fashioned. We’ll await an intrepid law or business professor to report on what percentage of such mergers add value. That’s a reality check that may be instructive to all involved.