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By Emma Schwartz and Jason McLure Boston-based Bingham McCutchen plans to acquire the ailing D.C. law firm Swidler Berlin by the beginning of next year, a Bingham spokesman confirmed today. The deal awaits approval by both partnerships, and due diligence is not yet complete, but this week the two firms signed a letter of intent to merge. “We are optimistic about bringing this transaction to completion,” Bingham Chairman Jay Zimmerman said in a statement.The match would instantly give the 850-lawyer Bingham a substantial Washington presence, more than tripling the firm’s 55-lawyer D.C. office. The addition of much of the 140-lawyer Swidler would also add two new practice groups, telecommunications and lobbying. Swidler managing partner Barry Direnfeld did not respond to repeated calls for comment. At least two key Swidler groups are said to be out of the Bingham deal, its insurance policy group headed by Mark Plumer and its bankruptcy group headed by former Swidler managing partner Roger Frankel, according to legal recruiters and former Swidler partners. For Swidler, the move means the end of a slow but troubled downward spiral. Last year the firm was rocked by failed merger negotiations with Dickstein Shapiro Morin & Oshinsky and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. Its entire New York office left for Dechert in January, and key D.C. partners in its antitrust and white-collar defense practices jumped ship almost simultaneously. Then this summer, its 14-lawyer energy group left for the D.C. office of Alston & Bird. Bingham is no stranger to law firm acquisitions. The firm, which has catapulted up The American Lawyer magazine’s rankings of the nation’s highest-grossing law firms from No. 81 in 1999 to No. 26 this year, grew through a series of five successful mergers. In 1997 it took in the Japanese practice of Marks & Murase, which had offices in New York and Los Angeles. Two years later, the financial restructuring and insolvency firm of Hebb & Gitlin joined Bingham. By 2001 the firm had boosted its New York office with the acquisition of Richards & O’Neil. The next year the firm took on its biggest partner to date, 300-lawyer McCutchen, Doyle, Brown & Enersen, a longtime San Francisco-based firm. In 2002, Bingham acquired Los Angeles-based Riordan & McKinzie, the firm co-founded by former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan. Bingham is known for its corporate and financial services work. It has a strong profits per partner of $1.1 million, although its partnership is tiered. The acquisition marks the disappearance of yet another highly regarded D.C. -based firm. Swidler was founded in July 1982 by Joseph Swidler, Edward Berlin, and Roger Strelow, who led an exodus of eight lawyers from the now-defunct Leva, Hawes, Symington, Martin & Oppenheimer and started their own energy-focused firm. By the 1990s the firm’s booming telecom practice under rainmaker Andrew Lipman had become its forte. Aggressive and highly profitable, the firm merged with New York’s 60-lawyer Shereff, Friedman, Hoffman & Goodman in 1998. But the New York lawyers’ corporate practice never meshed with Swidler’s regulatory focus and led to their departure for Dechert in January. With a steady bleeding of key partners and its lease on its offices in Georgetown’s Washington Harbour complex set to expire in 2007, Swidler was widely rumored to be shopping for partners in recent months. Emma Schwartz and Jason McLure are reporters with Legal Times. They can be contacted at [email protected] and [email protected]

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