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For Hancock Rothert & Bunshoft, the road to a merger started with a casual lunch last February near the fountain at Rincon Center. Over a meal of carry-out Thai food, Eric Sinrod, a longtime Hancock partner who’d moved to Duane Morris, asked former colleague Richard Seabolt to imagine what a national platform could do for his practice. That led to a series of dinners, a trip to Philadelphia, and even a weekend meeting there for partners from both firms. On Wednesday, the two firms officially announced an agreement to merge effective Jan. 1 under the name Duane Morris. “What’s attractive with the Hancock merger is both the quality and the quantity of the people,” says Sinrod, who knows them from his years with the firm. And the merger should give Hancock lawyers a leg up with clients. “We’ve been pleased to be a medium-sized law firm,” Hancock Chairman Philip Matthews said Wednesday. “We like our culture. It’s been fun to be independent. But we haven’t been unmindful that in the last few years, this globalization has been going on.” Duane Morris entered the San Francisco market in 1998 with three lateral partners, Thomas Berliner, George Niespolo and Joseph Burton, who has been managing the office and will continue to do so, at least initially. The merger will take the S.F. office from fewer than 25 lawyers to about 90. While Sinrod says the firm had been pleased with its slow and steady growth in San Francisco, it was obviously looking to expand faster. All told, Duane Chairman Sheldon Bonovitz said, the merger gives the firm 130 lawyers in California, including a new office in Los Angeles. Duane Morris announced separately that it will add five lawyers in Los Angeles from dissolving Coudert Brothers, including partner Russell Roten, who’d come from Hancock. Bonovitz is focused on growth, having more than doubled the number of Duane lawyers in three years, almost entirely through hiring individuals and small groups. With the Hancock merger, it will have more than 600 lawyers. Bonovitz hopes for 1,000 lawyers by the end of 2007, a goal he says is realistic if the firm completes another merger. “We could certainly do two Hancock-sized mergers in a year, or one larger merger in a year,” he says. For now, Bonovitz says, there are no deals on the table, and he isn’t going to compromise quality for quantity. And he says he thinks he can add another 75 to 100 lawyers over the next two years just with lateral hires. The selling point of the Hancock merger is Hancock’s litigation team, especially its insurance coverage group. Bonovitz hopes to take advantage of Hancock’s relationships with the Lloyds of London companies, which Bonovitz says his firm also serves. In fact, he said, Duane Morris already has a full-time business development professional based in London who focuses on the insurance industry. Obviously there are details to be worked out. Initially, Bonovitz said, Burton will continue as managing partner of the San Francisco office. But lawyers at Hancock will have leadership positions in the insurance coverage practice group and on Duane’s partnership board. Most of Hancock’s leases expire in 2007, and the firm will be making decisions about which offices to keep. So far, Bonovitz said, Duane Morris intends to bring all the San Francisco lawyers under one roof, and will keep Hancock’s four-lawyer office at Lake Tahoe. For the 19 partners at Hancock, the merger means giving up a measure of independence. “We are all long-timers, which made it hard for us,” adds Ronald Ruma, a partner on Hancock’s management committee. “Most of us were incubators at Hancock. Our chairman emeritus, Barry Bunshoft, likes to claim that he raised us all from eggs.” The firm hopes to benefit from Duane’s national platform, which Ruma says should appeal to new clients. The Hancock lawyers see opportunities to expand their representation of clients in business litigation, IP and technology disputes. Hancock, which traditionally represented Lloyds of London and was known for big pollution cases, had gotten steadily smaller, even as it attempted to branch out to other areas. At the end of 1998, it had 120 lawyers. In 2002, it had 100. In that year, the last for which figures are available, Hancock had revenues of about $56 million. Lawyers familiar with both firms’ practices praised the deal. “It makes a lot of sense for Hancock to do this because they are heavily dependent, in that it takes a very long time for one client [Lloyds] to pay them,” said David Goodwin, a partner in the insurance coverage practice at Heller Ehrman. “It would be very helpful for [the Hancock] people to have partners who are paid on a monthly basis.” Goodwin added that, “Duane Morris is an excellent insurance company law firm.” “I should know,” Goodwin added. “I sued their client.”

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