Partners at Carlton Fields are preparing to vote next week on a proposed merger with Jorden Burt that would create a 310-lawyer firm. Talks between the two firms have been ongoing for more than a year, and the vote is considered a formality, according to sources with knowledge of the discussions,
The merger would allow Carlton establish itself in both Washington, D.C., and Connecticut. The latter is the heart of the insurance industry, which is Jorden Burt’s strength. Carlton would add a lucrative complex insurance regulatory and defense practice under the merger.
Gary Sasso, president and CEO of Carlton Fields, and James Jorden, managing partner of Jorden Burt, would not confirm that a merger deal has been reached.
"It is our policy not to confirm or deny that we are in discussions with any firm," Sasso says. "We are always exploring opportunities for strategic growth. If you have been told by anyone that we have an agreement to merge with Jorden Burt or any other firm, that is not accurate."
Jorden, meanwhile, says, "We’ve had merger discussions with many firms. I have nothing to report. It’s not correct to say we have a signed deal."
Founded in 1901, Tampa-based Carlton Fields has 250 lawyers and offices in Atlanta, Miami, New York, Orlando, St. Petersburg, Tallahassee, and West Palm Beach. Jorden Burt has 60 lawyers spread across offices in Miami, Washington and Simsbury, Connecticut.
Jorden Burt has been seeking a merger partner for years, according to recruiters and other legal industry sources. A posssible tie-up with Akerman Senterfitt was in the works last year but collapsed after Akerman concluded Jorden Burt wanted too much money, according to several sources with knowledge of the talks. Jorden Burt attorneys Richard Sharpstein and associate Ari Gersten joined Akerman after those talks broke down.
Analysts and legal recruiters say the merger would offer a broader geographic footprint and niche practice area expansion.
"It seems to make some sense for Carlton Fields because it strengthens them in Florida, gives them a presence in D.C. and establishes them on the ground in the Northeast," said Ward Bower, an analyst with Altman Weil. "That enables them to gain instant access to new markets and new clients."
Law firms generally prefer merging with firms to opening offices in new locations, Bower added, noting, "It can take forever to start from scratch, and firms don’t always wind up getting a foothold. Here, you have cash from day one."
Law firm mergers in general were on the uptick in 2012 and the first quarter of 2013, he said. Sixty mergers were reported last year and 17 in the first quarter.
Joe Ankus, a legal recruiter with Ankus Consulting of Weston, called the proposed merger "synergistic."
"Jorden Burt has a great reputation in very complex insurance-related disputes, and Carlton has wanted to expand its presence outside Florida," he said. "It gives Carlton depth. These are two puzzle pieces that legitimately fit together."
Carlton has a stable full of top litigators, who represent 61 percent of the firm’s revenue, followed by real estate at 13 percent and corporate at 13 percent, according to its latest Am Law 200 survey.
Jorden Burt, founded in Miami, is known for its high hiring standards, Ankus added, calling the firm "a legal eagle in this market."
Sources said Jorden, who is in his early 70s, has been looking for an exit plan — something that has caused some consternation for partners. The name of the firm going forward hasn’t been confirmed.
Jorden Burt is noted for its class-action defense of the insurance industry as well as contract, fraud, ERISA and securities litigation for insurance companies, broker-dealers, hedge funds and banks.
In 2012, Carlton Fields was the fifth-largest law firm in Florida by number of attorneys, according to the Daily Business Review’s Review 100 survey. The firm also was fifth by gross revenue, reporting $154 million in 2012.
Average partner compensation and revenue per lawyer has been steadily increasing, with Carlton reporting $528,000 for average partner compensation and $614,390 in revenue per lawyer in 2012.
Jorden Burt does not report its finances.
Miami is the only city where the two firms have overlapping offices. Sources say Jorden Burt would move from its offices at 777 Brickell Ave. to Carlton’s offices at the Miami Tower at 100 S.E. 2nd St. in downtown Miami. Sources said there would be no layoffs as a result of the merger.