In a climate where clients seek a wider range of expertise from the law firms they hire, along with the economies of scale that only a larger operation can provide, it’s not at all unusual to see large chunks of one firm join forces with another.
Exhibit A: earlier this month, there were widespread reports in the Connecticut legal community that 15 lawyers at the Farmington firm of Levy & Droney are moving to the Hartford office of Providence, R.I.-based Hinckley Allen & Snyder, effective January 1.
The attorneys being absorbed by the regional firm, including name partners Coleman B. Levy and John F. Droney, will make the move to the Stilts Building in downtown Hartford. The remaining five Levy & Droney lawyers will be left to fend for themselves. Levy & Droney, a 38-year-old firm that has ranked in the top 25 in Connecticut in terms of annual gross revenues, will reportedly be dissolved in the process.
The move will boost the size of Hinckley Allen’s Hartford office to about 35 lawyers. Hinckley Allen, which will have about 155 attorneys once the hirings take place, also has offices in Boston, Concord, N.H., and Albany, N.Y.
The firm entered the Connecticut market with a similar bulk hiring effort in 2008, when it acquired 25 lawyers from the now-defunct New Haven law firm of Tyler Cooper.
Marc A. Crisafulli, managing partner for Hinckley Allen, declined to discuss the most recent hiring deal. But he said the firm has been methodical in expanding its business plan in Connecticut, starting with the Tyler Cooper acquisitions five years ago. That entry into the Connecticut market, he said, was 13 years in the making.
“In Connecticut, like all of our markets, we’re always looking to add good people to add to our culture and help us build a more successful firm for the future,” Crisafulli said.
The firm’s culture, he said, is not one based on growth just for the sake of growing, but rather one built on long-term sustainability. “We’re looking for people who are interested in the collective practice of law.”
Without discussing the Levy & Droney hires specifically, Crisafulli acknowledged making a decision to bring in lawyers from a single law firm can be a way to add clients, while gaining lawyers who share Hinckley Allen’s vision. “For us, it generally starts with people who are known to us,” he said. “Usually, someone in our firm has worked with them and has a good personal connection. When we get people that come from smaller firms, it’s usually that they are entrepreneurial, they have great client relationships, but they can’t provide all the types of services that address the needs of their clients.”
For example, Crisafulli said, a smaller firm might have a corporate client who needs expertise in federal law governing pensions under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. “With ERISA, you can’t have someone doing that part time,” he said. “If you’re a smaller firm, you’re not going to have an expert on hand who can help that client. But a firm like ours can.”
On the other hand, Crisafulli’s firm, which he said could grow by another 50 lawyers all together under its current business model, has an economic advantage over larger firms with national or international offices. Their clients don’t have to pay for the kind of overhead that the larger firms have, he said.
Levy & Droney has been known as a politically connected fixture in the greater Hartford legal community. Among its practice areas, the firm has represented clients in business matters ranging from commercial real estate transactions to bankruptcies.
In addition to name partners Levy, who runs the business and finance practice group, and Droney, who leads the litigation team, others who will make the move include attorneys C. Robert Zelinger and Dane Kostin, partners in banking and finance practice groups.
Levy & Droney came in at No. 22 in the Connecticut Law Tribune‘s latest “Trib 25″ rankings of top Connecticut firms. It reported $9 million in revenues in 2011, up from $8.6 million the previous year.
While the 2008 hires from Tyler Cooper created new strengths for Hinckley Allen in the areas of financial services and bankruptcy, the Levy & Droney hires will build on the firm’s other major practice areas, which include corporate, construction, health care and real estate law.
Dan Kleinman, the managing partner at Levy & Droney, has said there is no formal announcement of the hiring agreement and declined further comment.
John Droney has held many positions of political prominence in Connecticut. He’s former chairman of the Connecticut Democratic State Central Committee and was a senior adviser to U.S. Senator Christopher Dodd. His brother, Christopher, is a U.S. District judge in Connecticut.
Levy is on the board of directors of the Hartford County Bar Association and is a former owner of the New Britain Rock Cats minor league baseball team. Neither returned phone calls and email messages seeking comment.
William S. Fish Jr., who practices business law for Hinckley Allen in Hartford, was the managing partner at Tyler Cooper when the similar hiring move took place. Unlike Levy & Droney, however, that firm had been losing revenue for a few years before most of its partners were hired away.
Although he would not specifically discuss the Levy & Droney deal, Fish recalled the feelings by many at his former firm when it was announced they would be picked up by Hinckley Allen. At the time, he said, some who were offered an opportunity to change firms did not make the move. But those who did now believe “it was the best thing we ever did,” he said. Fish explained that larger regional firms can provide attorneys and their clients with added resources and, often, efficiency.
At the same time, speaking in general terms, Fish said the end of a law firm is never a cause for celebration. “You can’t help but feel some bittersweetness, in terms of there being a name that will no longer be in the legal landscape,” he said. “That having been said, the excitement of joining Hinckley Allen far outweighed anything else.”
Peter Giuliani, a Weston, Conn.-based law firm consultant, said “it’s pretty much common knowledge that Hinckley Allen has been hot to trot for Connecticut for quite a while.”
While this deal is distinguished from the kind of merger that in 2008 combined the 50-lawyer Hartford firm of Pepe & Hazard with McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter, a New Jersey law firm of 250 lawyers, Giuliani said the outcome is similar. The old firm might cease to exist, but the individual lawyers will continue to work with their clients, just as they did before.
“Under a traditional merger,” Giuliani said, “Hinckley Allen would have taken the whole firm, and over a two-year period weeded out the people they didn’t want. This way, the people who didn’t get hired have a better chance of finding a position elsewhere.”