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The recent merger of Boston’s Ropes & Gray with New York’s Fish & Neave is just one in a string of firm marriages creating an “eat or be eaten” atmosphere in Beantown’s traditionally clubby legal community. But rather than a casting off of any perceived parochialism among Boston’s prominent law firms, the expansion is about one thing: money. With many of the city’s white-shoe firms recently merging with out-of-town practices, Boston’s tight knit—if not insular—legal network is conforming to the national trend of consolidation. Financial services, litigation and health care have positioned Boston-based law firms to expand nationally. At the same time, the city is an attractive location for large firms based elsewhere to enter a market that offers robust fee rates and well-educated practitioners. In Ropes & Gray’s case, the 576-attorney firm decided to merge with 165-attorney Fish & Neave, an intellectual property boutique, not only because of its tantalizing client base, which has included Thomas Edison and the Wright brothers, but also because of the hefty fees the firm can garner in the Big Apple. “One could decide ‘I want to go after the XYZ firm,’ but if it pops up in Podunk, you can’t get lawyers to work there,” said Ropes & Gray Chairman R. Bradford Malt. His firm already employed about 80 lawyers in New York before the Fish & Neave deal. Because Boston practices have routinely earned sizeable fees for their work, they have not rushed to expand beyond the area, Malt said. He added that although Boston law firms may have lived up to their impenetrable, buttoned-down image 50 years ago, the same is not true now. “Reputations die hard,” he said. Behind the merger curve Other Boston mergers this year included Goodwin Procter with Washington’s Shea & Gardner, and Hale and Dorr with Wilmer Cutler & Pickering, also in Washington. Though two other big mergers-Bingham Dana with San Francisco’s McCutchen Doyle Brown & Enerson, and Brown Rudnick Freed & Gesmer with New York’s Berlack, Israels & Liberman-took place two years ago, Boston generally has lagged behind the merger curve established in other markets, said Goodwin Procter chairwoman Regina Pisa. Real estate, technology and corporate work kept local firms focused on business at home following the early 1990s recession, she said. “It was hard to make the case of why you needed to leave this region when you couldn’t possibly meet the growth demands of the region,” Pisa said. She added that most of the growth among Boston firms, spurred by technology, intellectual property work and financial services, involved adding attorneys to their Boston offices instead of fanning out to locations outside the state. It was client growth beyond Boston’s borders, she said, that prompted Goodwin Procter’s merger, which was finalized earlier this month. Boston’s holdout One of Boston’s bigger firms, however, rejects the merger strategy. Sullivan & Worcester, with 163 attorneys, regularly gets calls from firms wanting to push into the Boston market, said co-managing partner Bill Curry. Likewise, though his firm has hired a few attorneys at a time as laterals, its goal is not to gobble up another firm. Sullivan & Worcester also has offices in New York and Washington. “Those of us here for a while or those who have come over recently really enjoy working at a firm where you know all your partners,” Curry explained. He said that another key factor-the clients’ wishes-has not required Sullivan & Worcester to have a presence in addition to its existing offices. “If our clients were telling us to do that, we would,” he said. Whether another big Boston firm, Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, will join the trend remains uncertain. With 383 attorneys, the firm focuses on biotech, health sciences, telecommunications, litigation and intellectual property. Mintz Levin has six offices, including New York, Los Angeles and London. Although his firm is not actively seeking a merger partner, it is not ruling out the idea, chairman Robert Popeo said. “We haven’t seen a need for that as yet, but we do see a need to acquire selectively,” he said.

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