Blank Rome has acquired more than 100 lawyers from Washington, D.C.-based Dickstein Shapiro, including more than 90 in the nation’s capital and 13 lawyers in New York.
The deal, which has been rumored to be in the works for weeks, nearly triples Blank Rome’s Washington presence and finds a home for almost all of the remaining attorneys at Dickstein Shapiro, which has suffered significant defections over the past year. Several years ago, there were more than 450 lawyers at Dickstein Shapiro, which was down to fewer than 115, according to reports from Legal affiliate The National Law Journal. The NLJ broke word earlier Thursday that a deal between the two firms was finalized.
Blank Rome chairman Alan J. Hoffman said Thursday that the firm acquired 107 lawyers through the deal, which he said was nearly all of the lawyers remaining at Dickstein Shapiro.
Hoffman was clear the deal was not a merger. Rather, he called it a lateral acquisition of a large number of attorneys.
When asked whether Blank Rome would be responsible for certain Dickstein Shapiro liabilities, such as former partners’ capital, Hoffman said questions about the next step for Dickstein Shapiro would have to be directed to that firm.
“We are really not involved in that,” Hoffman said.
He said he isn’t sure what title to give the wind-down of Dickstein Shapiro’s operations because he has not been involved in that process. He said the attorneys who have joined Blank Rome are bringing their work in process and accounts receivable.
On Dickstein Shapiro’s website Thursday the firm said, “Dickstein Shapiro LLP is no longer engaged in the practice of law.”
Hoffman predicted the combination would move Blank Rome to around the 65th spot on the Am Law 100 list based on the latest published rankings in 2015. At that time, the 65th spot went to a firm with $481.5 million in gross revenue for its 2014 fiscal year.
Blank Rome was 96th on the 2015 ranking with $331 million in revenue. While the 2016 Am Law 100 has not been finalized, Blank Rome has reported a 4.2 percent jump in gross revenue in 2015 to $345 million. Dickstein Shapiro has not reported its 2015 financials. In 2014, the firm had $192 million in gross revenue.
Hoffman said there was not much to work out in terms of financial issues. He said Dickstein Shapiro was very profitable and the rates were compatible with Blank Rome’s.
Hoffman said he began speaking with Dickstein Shapiro managing partner James Kelly on Christmas Eve, shortly after Dickstein Shapiro’s merger talks with Bryan Cave came to an end. While groups of lawyers have left Dickstein Shapiro since that time, Hoffman said nearly all of the lawyers the firm was looking to acquire since talks began are the ones it was getting, with the possible exception of a few individual departures who have since left.
Hoffman said there was “absolutely” a concern in bringing on the bulk of a firm that appeared to be struggling.
“We satisfied ourselves that that concern was unfounded,” Hoffman said. “Particularly when we looked at the longevity of the partners that are joining us and their fit with our practice areas.”
Hoffman said in a statement that the partners joining have an average of more than 20 years with Dickstein Shapiro and represent the “core team” that formed the Washington office.
Hoffman would not comment on whether any of the Dickstein Shapiro lawyers had to agree to remain at Blank Rome for a set period of time.
Dickstein Shapiro’s partners voted unanimously earlier this week to move ahead with the deal, Hoffman said. And Blank Rome’s 39-member partner board voted unanimously for the firm to do the deal, he said. The financial terms of the deal were effective Feb. 1 while the attorney and staff officially joined the firm Thursday.
According to Blank Rome, the acquisition will add two new practices to the firm, a government contracts team and an insurance coverage practice. It will also bolster Blank Rome’s existing intellectual property practice by about 30 lawyers, as well as add depth to the litigation, corporate and real estate groups. With these additions, Blank Rome now has about 620 lawyers across 14 offices.
Kelly will now serve as the head of Blank Rome’s Washington office and will work on integration of the two teams. Kelly will also continue with his transactional practice.
Prior to the deal, Blank Rome had about 50 lawyers and government relations professionals in Washington. Blank Rome has assumed Dickstein Shapiro’s lease in Washington and will consolidate its operations in that office in the future, the firm said.
Blank Rome currently has about 150 attorneys in New York.
Hoffman said the firm was looking to grow in Washington and New York, but said he didn’t think it would be “all in one fell swoop.” He said this was a group, however, that wants to practice together and was looking for an opportunity that would allow that.
Blank Rome has looked at merger opportunities over the last few years, with much larger firms, such as Nixon Peabody. But they didn’t work out.
“I think what we’ve learned in recent years, it’s very difficult to do a merger of true equals,” Hoffman said, noting conflicts and politics as two major hurdles.
But the firm has been growing by smaller groups over the past few years. Hoffman noted that 33 percent of its now more than 600 lawyers have joined since 2010. The Dickstein Shapiro deal is the largest the firm has ever done.
Frank D’Amore of Attorney Career Catalysts said this was a “bold, declarative move” for Blank Rome that appears to have a lot of upside.
D’Amore said history has shown that firms who pick up a big core of a firm that has been shrinking in overall head count have all seemed to do pretty well.
Katelyn Polantz of The National Law Journal, an ALM affiliate of The Legal, contributed to this report.
Gina Passarella can be contacted at 215-557-2494 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @GPassarellaTLI. •