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The end came quickly for Burns, Doane, Swecker & Mathis. Following a month-long courtship, the struggling Northern Virginia intellectual property boutique announced last week it would be acquired by Pittsburgh-based Buchanan Ingersoll. All 57 of Burns, Doane’s attorneys will join Buchanan, including 50 from Burns, Doane’s Alexandria, Va., headquarters near the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Buchanan also inherits more than 100 staffers. Thomas VanKirk, Buchanan’s chief executive officer, says negotiations had proceeded rapidly out of fear that Burns, Doane � which lost former chairman R. Danny Huntington and other key partners in recent months � would continue to splinter. “Headhunters are out there,” VanKirk says. “If this drew out too long, the possibility was people might leave.” The combined firm will have 390 attorneys in 13 offices stretching from San Diego to New York. And the addition of the Burns, Doane lawyers will give Buchanan considerably more heft in its IP practice. Currently, Buchanan has 17 IP attorneys. Five Burns, Doane attorneys in Northern California and two in its San Diego outpost will also join Buchanan. For Burns, Doane lawyers, the coupling with Buchanan should give them financial stability as they seek to stop the departures that have more than halved the old firm’s head count over the past five years. They also will be able to tap Buchanan’s much larger client base, which includes financial institutions such as the PNC Bank Corp., Citizens Financial Group Inc., and the National City Corp. “Burns Doane is one of the leaders in nanotechnology,” VanKirk says. “Our banking attorneys have clients that will need opinions on whether nanotech companies are viable.” One key to the success of the merger will be the effort to integrate Burns, Doane’s patent specialists, who focus on registering applications with the Patent and Trademark Office, with Buchanan’s commercial litigators, many of whom are based in Pennsylvania. In recent years, as IP cases have grown ever more profitable for law firms, boutiques like Burns, Doane have been squeezed out of top-tier litigation by competition from such large firms as Howrey and Kirkland & Ellis. Whether the combined firm can leverage Burns, Doane’s technical expertise and Buchanan’s existing client base into more big-ticket IP litigation remains to be seen. After the merger is completed June 1, Burns Doane’s Alexandria lawyers will remain in their current offices, and chairman Joseph Gess will become managing partner of what will be Buchanan’s new Alexandria office. Burns, Doane will get one seat on Buchanan’s 19-member board of directors. “We had looked at other general practice firms but they never wanted all of us,” says Gess. “They wanted to cherry-pick.” Gess says that the two firms are currently attempting to resolve two client conflicts, which may mean that one or two Burns, Doane attorneys will not be able to join Buchanan. Additionally, not all of Burns, Doane’s current partners will become full, equity shareholders (the equivalent of partners) at Buchanan, VanKirk says. And up to 25 staff jobs will be trimmed at the combined firm, though VanKirk declines to specify where these cuts will take place. Burns, Doane has faced a number of setbacks in recent years. It lost its largest client, the telecom giant Ericsson Corp., in 2002. Last summer, it tried and failed to merge with Minneapolis IP boutique Merchant & Gould, and last month top rainmaker and former firm chairman Huntington and three other patent interference partners left for Bingham McCutchen. These setbacks, combined with real estate leases in Northern Virginia and Northern California inked near the height of the technology boom, had weighed on the firm’s finances. In an interview after the acquisition was announced, VanKirk said that Buchanan’s shareholders would not assume any liability for Burns, Doane’s outstanding obligations. He said that the firm would use Burns, Doane’s accounts receivable and work-in-progress to pay off the debts, which include repayment of partnership shares to several former Burns, Doane partners. FURTHER ACTIVITY The Burns, Doane acquisition hasn’t been Buchanan’s only lateral activity this year. As reported in The Legal Intelligencer, Legal Times’ Philadelphia-based sister paper, Buchanan acquired 10 New York attorneys from litigation boutique Slotnick Shapiro & Crocker in February. In March, the firm added a seven-lawyer tax group in Miami from Steel Hector & Davis. But the firm has also seen defections: Earlier this year, it lost its 10-attorney San Diego office to Duane Morris. The acquisition is Buchanan Ingersoll’s second attempt at planting its flag in Northern Virginia. As reported in The Legal Intelligencer, the firm opened a small office in 2000 near the peak of the technology boom, only to close it again in 2002. Buchanan currently has 40 attorneys in its D.C. office, which focuses on tax and Food and Drug Administration matters. And while Burns, Doane’s fortunes have declined in recent years, the two firms have similar revenue and profit numbers. Burns, Doane’s attorneys generated revenue of $500,000 per lawyer in 2003; Buchanan’s figure is $440,000. While Burns, Doane’s profits per partner have fallen from $600,000 to $350,000, the firm is only slightly less profitable than Buchanan, whose profits per partner were $380,000 in 2003. The acquisition marks the disappearance of yet another IP boutique. Since 2002, New York’s Pennie & Edmonds and Fish & Neave and California’s Lyon & Lyon have also been swallowed by general practice firms. “I don’t know that you can say this indicates the end of IP boutiques,” says Daniel Binstock, a recruiter at BCG Attorney Search. “But it shows the challenges boutiques are facing. In order to effectively compete, they need the manpower and resources often only found in general practice firms.” The deal marks the last chapter in Burns, Doane’s 69-year history. The firm was founded during the Great Depression by James Burns, a former interference examiner at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, whose major client was Standard Oil. Chevron, a successor company to Standard, remains one of the firm’s clients. In the late 1950s, the firm merged with Swecker & Mathis, which specialized in registering mechanical and electrical inventions. During the 1990s, the firm’s head count grew rapidly, peaking at 120 lawyers spread through offices in Northern California, San Diego, North Carolina, and Alexandria. But as intellectual property rights grew ever more valuable to large corporations, the premium fees paid for complex IP litigation work began to attract the attention of large general practice firms. Competition for business and talent from firms with bigger litigation groups and deeper pockets hastened Burns, Doane’s fall. “We thought we could survive. It would have taken some patience and commitment.” Gess said. “We missed out on some big cases because we didn’t have the litigation numbers to do them.” Jason McLure can be contacted at [email protected].

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