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After a year of negotiations, Stinson Mag & Fizzell and Morrison & Hecker had finally hammered out all the details of their 2002 merger agreement except one: what to call the new firm. In keeping with the trend toward shorter legal names, the two Kansas City, Mo., firms had agreed to limit the new moniker to three founders, meaning that two had to go. But which two, and in what order should the remaining names appear? So they decided to flip a coin. The winner: Stinson Morrison Hecker. It’s a pretty safe bet that Stinson Morrison Hecker is the only post-merger law firm name to be chosen by coin toss. Most firms prefer not to leave this issue to chance. “The name of a law firm is history bound,” says Terri Pepper Gavulic, a consultant with Hildebrandt International, based in Marietta, Ga. “It’s a very emotional issue in a merger.” To complicate matters, no ready formula exists for the naming process. “There’s no one right way to do it,” Gavulic says. The name game starts with the relative size of the merging firms. Two basic types of mergers exist: the so-called “merger of equals,” where both firms are of the same relative size, and the other kind, where one firm is notably larger than the other. As one would expect, in the latter type of merger, the smaller firm’s name typically gets sacrificed. This is precisely what happened when the 500-lawyer, Boston-based Goodwin Procter merged with the 70-lawyer Washington, D.C.-based Shea & Gardner in October. “We will miss the name,” says John Aldock, chair of the former Shea & Gardner. “But it wasn’t a big issue. There are so many issues more important than the name — it isn’t what makes a merger successful.” Aldock says the clients that know Shea & Gardner are already on board with the name change. And a combined name could have set an awkward and expensive precedent should there be another merger down the road. MAKING THE TRANSITION A common practice is the transitional name, in which just the smaller firm will use a combined name for a while in order to leverage its existing brand. For example, when the 76 lawyers of New York-based maritime specialists Haight Gardner Poor & Havens joined forces with the 500-plus lawyers of Miami-based Holland & Knight in 1997, the lawyers of the smaller firm continued to do business as Haight Gardner Holland & Knight for about five years. “It was important to keep the name from a branding standpoint,” says Holland & Knight’s managing partner, Howell Melton. “We want [maritime] clients to know that when they hire Holland & Knight, they are getting the same experience as in hiring Haight Gardner.” Another recent example: the 2000 merger of the 290-lawyer Philadelphia firm Blank Rome Comisky & McCauley with the 80-lawyer N.Y. firm Tenzer Greenblatt. While the rest of the new firm kept the Blank Rome name, the New York office used Blank Rome Tenzer Greenblatt for the next two years. BUILDING THE BRAND A firm may also permanently change its name to take advantage of the brand recognition of the smaller firm. When Chicago’s 435-lawyer Katten Muchin Zavis scooped up the 200-lawyer New York-based firm Rosenman & Colin in 2002, the two firms decided to brand the new firm as KMZ Rosenman. Judge Samuel Rosenman was a prominent figure in the New York bar, serving on the New York Court of Appeals and later becoming the first White House counsel under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Katten Muchin Zavis, on the other hand, was relatively unknown in New York. Chicago-based Mayer Brown & Platt similarly incorporated the Rowe and Maw name when it merged with the 274-lawyer London firm in 2002. They renamed the firm Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw to signal the firm’s global reach, says spokesman Jonathan Asperger. Another example: Howrey Simon Arnold & White, cobbled together from 340-lawyer Washington, D.C.-based Howrey & Simon and 100-lawyer Houston firm Arnold White & Durkee when they merged in 2000. The latter firm was a well-known intellectual property boutique, and the merger added serious firepower to Howrey’s existing IP practice. RETAINING GOODWILL There are even more permutations. When the 590 lawyers of Boston’s Ropes & Gray merged with the 160 lawyers of New York IP boutique Fish & Neave in October, they came up with an unusual hybrid solution to the name problem. While the rest of the firm will continue to be known as Ropes & Gray, the IP lawyers — including the 50 IP lawyers from the old Ropes & Gray — operate under the name Fish & Neave Intellectual Property Group. “We agreed that as a long-term proposition it was important to unite behind a single brand name,” says Ropes & Gray Managing Partner John Montgomery, “but there was also tremendous value in the Fish & Neave name.” Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe adopted a similar strategy when it merged with Palo Alto-based Venture Law Group in 2003. The vast majority of the firm’s lawyers work under the Heller Ehrman name, while the 58 lawyers of VLG, joined by 40 Heller Ehrman lawyers, use the name Heller Ehrman’s Venture Law Group. KEEPING IT SHORT In contrast, in a merger of equals, the resulting name is typically some combination of the legacy names. It’s also typically shorter. Paradoxically, “a shorter name connotes a larger firm,” says Charles Maddock, a principal at Altman Weil Inc., law firm consultants based in Newtown Square, Pa. “It signals a more institutional approach to the market and more of a unified, consolidated approach,” he says. “A lengthy name, on the other hand, says, ‘we’re still two firms.’” When Boston-based Bingham & Dana and San Francisco’s McCutchen, Doyle, Brown & Enersen merged in 2002, they took on the new name Bingham McCutchen largely for that reason, says Chairman Jay Zimmerman. “McCutchen had a very strong reputation on the West Coast,” while Bingham operated largely on the East Coast, he says, adding that the combined name symbolized an enhanced national presence. Although the trend is toward shorter names, there are exceptions. Take, for instance, Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, the post-merger name of the firms — yes, you guessed it — Wilmer Cutler Pickering, and Hale and Dorr. Co-Managing Partner William Lee points out that Lloyd Cutler still practices law. “It’s very difficult to drop the name of someone who is still alive or who’s really famous,” Hildebrandt’s Gavulic observes. Still, it’s a mouthful; however, the firm is using “wilmerhale” as its Web site URL and e-mail address. DETERMINING THE ORDER The order of the names is another issue. Who comes first can be a sticking point. Take, for example, the would-be 1998 merger between Philadelphia’s Blank Rome Comisky & McCauley and Cozen & O’Connor, derailed in part because the two firms could not agree on the future name of the firm, and specifically, which name would come first. (The firms declined to comment.) Finally, the process of selecting a name can be as varied as the result. The merger committee will check to see if there are any similar names that will cause confusion, then test the prospective names with partners and sometimes clients. They will also test how the new name will look in print and in logo and check to make sure the acronym isn’t embarrassing or off-color. But if you’re really stuck, there’s always the coin toss. Tamara Loomis is a freelance writer based in New York. This article was originally published in Law Firm Inc. magazine, aRecorder affiliate based in New York City. • Practice Center articlesinform readers on developments in substantive law, practice issues or law firm management. Contact News Editor Candice McFarland with submissions or questions at [email protected]or go to www.therecorder.com/submissions.html.

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