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The name of the East Bay’s largest law firm may become history as partners begin voting today on a deal to merge Pittsburgh-based Reed Smith and Oakland’s Crosby, Heafey, Roach & May. Ultimately, the combined firm will be called Reed Smith if partners from both firms ratify the deal. Of the name change, “No one thought that was that big of a deal,” said Kurt Peterson, CEO of Crosby Heafey. He added that the name issue took “about a minute” of negotiation time between the firms. The demise of Crosby’s name is just one aspect in a merger that, if it goes though, will create one of the biggest firms in the nation. Today, partners at both firms begin voting on the deal, which could create a firm with more than 900 attorneys and offices on both coasts and in London. Votes from the firms’ far-flung offices may not be completely tallied until late today or Wednesday. Crosby, which had been rattled by partner defections and falling profits because of the regional economic downturn, has been openly shopping for a merger partner. Reed Smith, a 760-attorney firm that has doubled its size over the past decade through acquisitions, was eyeing a California firm that would give it a foothold in the West. Reed Smith has offices in Washington, D.C.; New York; Wilmington, Del.; Richmond, Va.; Newark, N.J.; and London. The proposed merger would automatically give Reed Smith a network of offices in Oakland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Century City, Palo Alto and Westlake Village. The name game can be a deal breaker for some mergers, according to law firm consultant Peter Zeughauser. “It’s one of the first factors that comes up,” the consultant said. Depending on the priorities of the merging law firms, the issue can become contentious if one of the firms has invested a lot of money into marketing a name. And, Zeughauser said, it’s hard for a firm to advocate for a long moniker that includes many elements from both names if one firm’s name is better known. Crosby’s ego did not come into play when the parties discussed what the firm’s name was going to be, Peterson explained. When Crosby began looking for a large merger partner, it was clear early on that Crosby’s name might not survive a union, he said. That said, Crosby’s name would be used to market services that the firm is known for nationally, such as its pharmaceuticals work, he said. For marketing purposes, the California offices of the combined firm will be known as something like “Reed Smith Crosby Heafey,” but “Crosby Heafey” will eventually drop from the name, Peterson said. “We didn’t have many individuals — including Ed Heafey,” said Peterson referring to the firm’s last living name partner who passed away this year, “who thought [the name] mattered much as long as the rest of [the deal] made sense.”

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