As Gallop, Johnson & Neuman—a 38-year-old, midsize firm based in the St. Louis suburbs—teeters on the brink of dissolution, several regional Am Law 200 firms are considering scooping up laterals from the 54-lawyer shop.
"We are engaged in preliminary activities for a potential winding down of the firm," Gallop Johnson managing partner Thomas Campbell told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Thursday.
Neither Campbell nor Gallop Johnson general counsel John Traeger, who also heads the firm’s environmental practice, responded to requests for comment on the status of the firm, which is based in the St. Louis suburb of Clayton and has offices in Oklahoma City and Washington, D.C.
Campbell told the Post-Dispatch that Gallop Johnson’s satellite offices will slowly be phased out and attributed the firm’s fading fortunes to a sharp, recession-fueled drop in transactional and corporate work.
"The firm will in all likelihood not exist in the future," Campbell told the Post-Dispatch, noting that Gallop Johnson lawyers will continue to maintain a "passionate service to clients" instilled in them by firm founder Don Gallop. (Gallop died of cancer at 69 in 2002.)
Campbell, who also spoke with the St. Louis Business Journal on Friday about his firm’s plans to close up shop while meeting current client needs, has served as managing partner since 2005.
While Gallop Johnson has held merger talks over the years with several regional rivals, including St. Louis–based Armstrong Teasdale more than a decade ago, the firm remained independent even as most of its local competitors grew in size.
In one of the more memorable Show Me State tie-ups, a coin flip determined the name of Stinson Morrison Hecker upon that firm’s 2002 creation following a merger between Kansas City, Missouri–based Stinson Mag & Fizzell and Morrison & Hecker. (The combined firm picked up 40-lawyer St. Louis shop Blumenfeld Kaplan & Sandweiss five years later.)
Another top Missouri firm, Husch Blackwell, was formed in 2008 through the combination of Kansas City–based Blackwell Sanders—itself the product of a previous St. Louis merger—and St. Louis-based Husch Eppenberger. (Chicago IP boutique Welsh & Katz was bolted on that same year.) Polsinelli Shughart was also formed in 2008 through the merger of Kansas City–based Polsinelli Shalton Flanigan Suelthaus and Shughart Thomson & Kilroy.
Other leading St. Louis-based firms include Bryan Cave, which has done its merging outside Missouri in recent years (chiefly in Atlanta, Denver, and New York), and Thompson Coburn, which merged with Chicago’s Fagel Haber in 2007. Top local shops like Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale and Lewis, Rice & Fingersh, meanwhile, saw their head counts remain flat last year, according to an analysis by sibling publication The National Law Journal.
One regional firm that has already landed laterals from Gallop Johnson is Kansas City–based Lathrop & Gage, which consolidated its own St. Louis offices last fall and poached former Gallop Johnson corporate partners Robert Cantwell and Michael Adrian in February. Now, other Am Law 200 firms based in the area are considering whether to snag laterals of their own from the fading shop.
"We are always interested in growing our St. Louis office by adding top-tier attorneys through lateral acquisitions, and we’ve recently added several such attorneys," John Moticka, a litigation partner who heads Stinson Morrison’s St. Louis office, said in a statement. "As a matter of policy, we do not discuss our interest in specific attorneys or their law firms."
Not everyone is interested in what remains of Gallop Johnson. A spokesman for Kansas City-based Shook, Hardy & Bacon, which last week staged a seven-lawyer raid on Lathrop, says his firm, which does not have an office in St. Louis, isn’t anticipating hiring anyone from Gallop Johnson.
Campbell told the St. Louis press late last week that a full-scale departure of the firm’s partnership was unlikely. Two Missouri-based law firm leaders, who spoke to The Am Law Daily on the condition of anonymity, say there is a good reason for that: there simply isn’t much left at Gallop Johnson.
"They used to have a very good corporate and tax practice that catered to midsize and privately held clients," says one of the firm leaders. "But it’s incredibly tough to be a good boutique, midmarket business firm these days. It’s not like litigation—on the business side you need tax, employee benefits, and environmental [expertise]."
Campbell told the St. Louis Business Journal that the "recession simply outlasted our ability to continue to serve our clients the way we have in the past." He added that the firm would slow down its legal week in order to make sure that "creditors are addressed."
Campbell, a regulatory, real estate, and tax expert, counts St. Louis-based Isle of Capri Casinos, which operates riverboat gaming and entertainment facilities on and along the Mississippi River, as a client. Other top lawyers at the firm, according to those who spoke with The Am Law Daily, include sole remaining practicing name partner Sanford Neuman and corporate partner William Buckley.
But both Buckley and Neuman are in their late seventies. Indeed, the age of Gallop Johnson’s lawyers was cited by one firm leader as one factor hampering the firm’s ability to survive.
"It’s not a young, growing group," says this firm leader. "That’s not to say there aren’t talented people, but there’s been a steady rate of attrition in recent years."
Another prominent local lawyer says that many of those still at Gallop Johnson aren’t at the firm on a full-time basis, adding that "there are only two to three people we’d be interested in [hiring]."
On Monday, a roster of attorneys on Gallop Johnson’s Web site listed about 50 partners and of counsel, with just a handful of associates. At least one observer notes that’s not a ratio for long-term success.
"It’s a new world out there, but that’s certainly not the model you strive for," says this local firm leader. "It’s a shame, but I think things just caught up to them."