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Dechert has acquired 65 lawyers from D.C.’s Swidler Berlin Shereff & Friedman, effectively acquiring Swidler Berlin’s New York office. The move adds 57 Swidler Berlin lawyers to Dechert’s New York office, bringing the total to 170. The New York group includes 25 partners mostly divided between corporate and white-collar litigation practices. In a separately negotiated deal, Dechert is adding an eight-lawyer antitrust group from the D.C. office of Swidler Berlin, which now counts roughly 160 lawyers in its District office. Swidler is left with about seven lawyers in its New York office, according to the firm’s Web site. Swidler Berlin is well known for its lobbying and regulatory practices, especially in the telecommunications industry. Most of the lawyers in its New York office were formerly at New York’s Shereff Friedman Hoffman & Goodman, which merged with Swidler & Berlin in 1998. Robert Jossen, a litigation partner joining Dechert from Swidler Berlin, said the Washington and New York practices never truly integrated. In particular, he said, the New York corporate partners found they derived little benefit from Swidler Berlin’s legislative and regulatory practices. “As we proceeded, it became apparent the strategic platform we each wanted was very different,” Jossen said. “Their practice was inside the Beltway. They did not have the kind of corporate practice we wanted to have.” Jossen said Dechert’s size and international presence made it a much better platform for the New York Swidler Berlin partners. Dechert has 760 lawyers worldwide, with a large London office acquired through a 2000 merger with the British firm Titmus Sainer Dechert. Dechert Chairman Barton J. Winokur said the Swidler Berlin lawyers will be a “perfect fit” with his firm’s core transactional practices in the private equity and investment management areas. He said he expected the move to send a strong signal to clients and potential lateral partners about Philadelphia-based Dechert’s commitment to the New York market. “People have asked us if we are committed to this office,” Winokur said. New York, he said, “is where we have our biggest concentration of clients. This is a very significant increase for us. It gives us a lot more critical mass.” Dechert and Swidler Berlin have similar levels of profitability. According to a 2004 survey by The American Lawyer magazine, a Legal Times affiliate, Swidler Berlin had profits per partner of $940,000 in 2003 and Dechert had $1.02 million. Swidler Berlin had 265 lawyers at the time. MERGER TALKS COLLAPSED The Dechert move comes on the heels of collapsed merger talks between Swidler Berlin and San Francisco’s Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. Orrick had discussed both a merger with the entire Swidler Berlin firm but later also focused on the New York office. Winokur said Dechert began talks with Swidler Berlin’s New York office about two months ago, some time after it became clear that a full-blown merger between Orrick and Swidler Berlin was not going to happen. Winokur said Dechert was never interested in a larger merger with Swidler Berlin. “The rest of what they do down there is not something we want to do,” he said, referring to the legislative affairs practice and the telecommunications practice. He said he expects the antitrust group in Washington, which will have two partners, would fit well with Dechert’s other practices. A small number of lawyers, mostly working in a real estate practice, will remain in Swidler Berlin’s New York office. In a Jan. 3 statement, Swidler Berlin said it remained committed to New York and will target future expansion in practice areas, including bankruptcy. In the same statement, Managing Partner Barry Direnfeld acknowledged the failure of the 1998 merger. “The inability to realize the vision of the Swidler Berlin and Shereff Friedman merger in the New York market has made the restructuring of the New York office a primary objective of both the New York and D.C. arms of our firm,” he said. “We are pleased that we were able to accomplish this in a way that makes it a winning arrangement for all of our partners.” Winokur said partners at Dechert will work hard to ensure that the former Shereff Friedman lawyers have a better merger experience this time around. He said Dechert has a strong record of integrating lateral partners, which he credited to the strong fit between practices. “When practices fit as perfectly as these fit, your job is half done,” he said. Anthony Lin is a reporter at the New York Law Journal, an ALM publication.

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