One of Atlanta’s original legal recruiters, The Partners Group, has merged with a Chicago-based legal recruiter, Legalpeople.

Paul Talmadge Jr., who owns The Partners Group along with Cheryl Oliver and David Gruskin, said the merger is a way to expand his firm’s national reach and add resources while retaining a personal approach to legal recruiting. "We’ve put together in size and breadth a company that can compete with any of the big companies and still do it our way as opposed to corporate America’s way," Talmadge said.

The deal gives his firm entrée into the Chicago, Dallas and Houston legal markets, where Legalpeople has offices. "Those are three of the top 10 law markets in the U.S. where we have no people or offices," Talmadge said.

In addition to Atlanta, The Partners Group has offices in Charlotte, N.C., Nashville, Tenn., Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Talmadge declined to disclose revenue figures, but said the combined firm has about 30 employees.

The firms established a parent company, Legal Partners, incorporated in Delaware, as a holding company for The Partners Group and Legalpeople.

The companies will continue to operate under their own brands in their respective cities and will maintain co-headquarters in Chicago and Atlanta, Talmadge said. "They are known brands. There’s no use in changing something that’s working."

Legalpeople’s owner, Jim Kosciolek, said the pooled resources and similar, people-oriented cultures of the two firms made the merger attractive. "Our companies are really complementary. Culturally they’re a super-easy fit and geographically they work great," he said.

"Legal recruiting is a fiercely competitive business. You need a lot of irons in the fire, a lot of relationships. So it helps to have as broad a base as possible," Kosciolek said.

"And it’s fun," he added. "We’ve both been successful in our businesses and it’s fun to have some people to share this with—to put some resources in new markets that we might be hesitant to do on our own."

Talmadge said his relationship with Kosciolek goes back to 1997, when he left his career as a lawyer to venture into the new world of legal recruiting. The other three owners are also lawyers.

Talmadge and Oliver opened an Atlanta office for legal recruiter Co-Counsel that year. Kosciolek had opened a Chicago office for the company.

"Cheryl and I have known Jim since the beginning," Talmadge said. "We all kind of grew up in the industry together and have the same culture. We’re really service-driven versus being sales people."

Talmadge and Oliver left Co-Counsel to start their own firm, The Partners Group, in 1999. Co-Counsel was acquired by Ajilon, which is part of the multinational staffing company Adecco, and in 2002 Kosciolek started Legalpeople.

As the firms grew, Kosciolek expanded into Texas, while Partners Group opened offices in Charlotte, Nashville and California, adding contract recruiting and document review services.

Talmadge said the deal had been a year in the making. They’d considered merging about five years ago, he added, but the timing was not right.

In 2011 Talmadge, Oliver and Gruskin bought out the interest of their investor, Mark Hawn. At that time, the company separated from sister company Paramount Staffing, also based in Atlanta, which provides support staff to law firms, medical offices and companies.

The staffing company and legal recruiter had joined forces at the beginning of 2008. Talmadge said the split was amicable and they continue to refer work to each other.

Meanwhile, Gruskin had gotten to know Kosciolek at industry meetings and become friends with him, Talmadge said. Gruskin initiated discussions about a merger after he and his partners bought out Hawn. The deal, which was a year in the making, was attractive to both sides because they did not compete in any of the cities where they had offices and would each gain an established presence in several top legal markets.

"Since we opened our own companies, the industry has matured to the point where if you just go to these cities as a newbie and try and throw your flag down, it’s tough sledding—unless you’ve got a major client there," Talmadge explained.

"There was no overlap, which was what made it beautiful," he said.

Kosciolek said The Partners Group’s presence in Atlanta and Los Angeles was a big draw. Now the partners are thinking about New York and Washington, the two biggest legal markets in the nation. "Those markets are hard to break into without existing clients and relationships," Kosciolek said, adding that the merger will allow the firms to pool resources and contacts in those cities.

"Right now we are just trying to integrate everything and pull it together, so we have a good first year," Talmadge said.

The Partners Group recruits lawyers for permanent and contract positions and assembles teams of contract attorneys for document review.

Legalpeople has focused on contract recruiting and document review. Kosciolek said he will tap into The Partners Group’s expertise to add recruiting for permanent positions to the offices in Chicago and Texas.

The merged firm has three document review centers—one in Atlanta operated by The Partners Group and two more in Chicago and Dallas operated by Legalpeople.

Document review is a busy area in the contract attorney world, Talmadge said. In a sign of how far-flung the practice of law has grown, he said The Partners Group housed a 60-lawyer document review project in Atlanta last year in which the two law firms were from San Francisco, the plaintiff was headquartered in France, the defendant was in Boulder, Colo., and the case was filed in Federal District Court in Texas.

James Andros at Carlton Fields in Atlanta advised on the merger along with a friend of Kosciolek’s, Gregg Griner, from the Boston office of Gunderson Dettmer.

Briefly

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