(FotolEdhar – Fotolia)

Most of the 22 U.S. law firm combinations that legal consultancy Altman Weil tracked for the first quarter of the year were of large to midsize firms snapping up small local firms. Three of them affected firms with Atlanta offices.

The acquired firm in 18 of the 22 deals had 15 or fewer lawyers—and in 13 of them, the acquired firm had five or fewer lawyers.

The largest combination for the quarter was Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney’s acquisition of 92-lawyer Tampa firm Fowler White Boggs.

“Each of these deals, whether designed to enhance geographic footprint, practice offerings or depth of expertise, represents an accelerated alternative to slower, more costly organic growth. In today’s ultra-competitive environment, law firms are getting more and more interested in ‘buying’ these enhancements rather than ‘building’ them over time,” said Altman Weil principal Ward Bower in a statement.

The only true merger of the quarter was between two mid-sized Tennessee firms. Knoxville’s Lewis King Krieg & Waldrop merged with Thomason Hendrix Harvey Johnson & Mitchell in Memphis to form Lewis Thomason, which has 91 lawyers.

The number of acquisitions kept pace with the activity level of 2012, when there were 21 law firm combinations in the first quarter. It was the most since the first quarter of 2009, when there were 25.

Atlanta-based Sutherland did the only cross-border deal of the quarter, combining with a London energy and commodities boutique, Arbis. The five-lawyer London firm became Arbis Sutherland, keeping the Arbis name because it is recognized in the London legal marketplace. The deal, effective March 18, gave Sutherland its first office outside of the U.S.

A combination between two Cincinnati firms affected some Atlanta bond lawyers. Dinsmore & Shohl’s February acquisition of bond law boutique Peck Shaffer & Williams prompted Peck Shaffer’s Atlanta office to decamp for Butler Snow, which is based in Jackson, Miss.

Three Peck Shaffer lawyers in Atlanta and one in Macon joined Butler Snow in February, before the bond firm’s merger with Dinsmore & Shohl, which was effective March 1. That increased the size of Butler Snow’s Atlanta office from two lawyers to five.

Valdosta firm Coleman Talley, which has an Atlanta office, acquired a two-lawyer Valdosta firm, J. Stephen Gupton, which handles residential real estate law, effective April 1. (Altman Weil tracks mergers by when they are announced, not when they go into effect, so the tie-up was counted in the first quarter.)