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Washington-Two of D.C.’s largest law firms-Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld and ShawPittman-have sent out feelers to evaluate each other as potential merger partners. The purpose of the talks has been to learn more about each other’s firms, said Stephen Huttler, managing partner of 350-lawyer ShawPittman. But the leaders of both firms emphasize that they’re hardly ready to tie the knot. “Law firm managers discuss all kinds of things all of the time, and among the things we’ve discussed with our friends at Akin Gump is how our practices line up,” Huttler said. Added R. Bruce McLean, chairman of Akin Gump, which has roughly 945 lawyers, “We have had several preliminary discussions with ShawPittman.” He stresses, though, that “nothing in those discussions can be accurately described as merger discussions.” However, a source familiar with both firms said the talks are “more than preliminary, but absolutely not a done deal at this point.” The source continues, “We’ve seen a lot of mergers of this caliber that never reach fruition. It’s still a wait-and-see matter. However, these firms have a lot of reasons to make this work. The industry shouldn’t be surprised if they pull this off where others haven’t.” If the firms do join, it would be one of the largest law firm mergers in the United States and an unprecedented move in the Washington legal market. Akin Gump and ShawPittman are, respectively, the 12th and 90th largest law firms in the country, according to NLJ’s 2002 survey of the nation’s 250 largest law firms. ShawPittman and Akin Gump are the eighth- and ninth-ranked firms in revenue in Washington, with local 2002 revenue of $166 million and $163 million, respectively. ShawPittman has 328 lawyers in Washington and Northern Virginia. Akin Gump has 279 lawyers. Biggest D.C. firm A combination of the two, barring major layoffs, would create the biggest Washington-area firm, with 607 lawyers in D.C. and Northern Virginia, and one of the 10 largest firms nationwide, with a head count of more than 1,200 lawyers and revenue topping $750 million. “They would be toe-to-toe with anyone,” said law firm consultant Peter Zeughauser. “They would be a formidable force.” William Brennan, an Altman Weil consultant in Newtown Square, Pa., who specializes in merger integration, agrees: “This would be a very significant event. It’s an indication that consolidation within the industry is continuing.” The firms already share several important organizational links, including a swap of their nonlawyer managers. Last year, Steven Moore left his post at Akin Gump to join ShawPittman as chief operating officer. And Akin Gump’s executive director, James Leary, until 2000 was chief operating officer of ShawPittman. And ShawPittman, after relinquishing its Los Angeles office space, will begin leasing from Akin Gump in Los Angeles in October. Earlier this summer, ShawPittman slashed its 18-lawyer outpost to six attorneys to focus on its core technology transactions practices there. In turn, Akin Gump leases space from ShawPittman in Northern Virginia. Akin Gump’s firmwide revenue in 2002 was $575 million, while ShawPittman, which also has offices in New York and London, brought in $192.3 million last year. The firms’ combined D.C. revenue was $329 million in 2002. This isn’t the first foray into mergers for Akin Gump, which has 15 offices around the world, including Moscow and Brussels. Among recent moves, in early 2001, the firm absorbed 61-lawyer Trooper Steuber Pasich Reddick & Tobey of Los Angeles.

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