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While one Pennsylvania firm has seen merger discussions fizzle out before they got very far, another looks like it might be getting closer to sealing the deal, according to some in the legal community. Pepper Hamilton’s merger discussions with Rochester, N.Y.-based Nixon Peabody have come to an end, according to one person in the legal community who’s knowledgeable about the deal. The source said that talk in the community and media gave more to the story than there was. “They died of their own weights shortly after” it was first reported in March, the source said. “If they ever came to a start, they came to a conclusion.” The source said that Pepper Hamilton has had several other and more significant merger discussions than the one with Nixon Peabody, but for some reason they were less discussed in the legal community. Firm executive partner Robert E. Heideck has said that he will not comment on discussions he has with other firms. While that merger won’t happen, there’s some speculation that there might be one on the horizon in the Windy City. Drinker Biddle & Reath had been rumored to be in discussions with Chicago-based firm Gardner Carton & Douglas. Mark Jungers, partner group leader for the Midwest offices of Major Lindsey & Africa said that “the Philadelphia people are spending a considerable amount of time in Chicago.” Drinker Biddle managing partner Andrew C. Kassner said that he has been in Chicago a bit lately, but pointed out that he has several cases ongoing there. Kassner said, as he has before, that the firm is still interested in bolstering its presence in the Windy City. Drinker Biddle entered the Chicago market in April 2005 with two partners from Kelley Drye & Warren, and the firm currently has four attorneys there. Jungers said that a merger with Drinker Biddle would be a positive scenario for Gardner Carton, whose stability some in the community have questioned. A Gardner Carton spokesman said in June that he could not comment on the merger but defended the firm after sources questioned its financial health and group morale. One legal consultant in Chicago who is familiar with 230-attorney Gardner Carton said the firm is “on the ropes” due to significant attrition in the last six months. According to the consultant, “partner and associate morale is in the pits.” The spokesman said the firm is financially very conservative and is focused on serving its clients. “Our revenues during 2005 were up 3 percent over the prior year,” he said. “We have very strong practices within our firm.” In response to comments that the firm has suffered a significant amount of attrition in recent years, the spokesman said that the firm has lost some attorneys just as many other firms have. He said Gardner Carton has added a number of attorneys since the beginning of 2006. The spokesman said the firm is nationally known for its health care practice and is strong in the areas of corporate restructuring, intellectual property, real estate and human resources law. Jungers has said that while Gardner Carton has been through some tough spots lately, it still has a really strong health care practice and a strong bankruptcy practice. Gardner Carton fell from the 151st spot on the AmLaw 200 to 163rd for its financial performance in 2005. The firm showed 226 lawyers with 41 equity partners. Jungers said that it looks as though the two firms may be trying to garner partner support or determine how partners from one firm would fit in with the new entity. “Those are generally the two things that go on at the end,” he said. Several local firms have come to the end of merger deals recently. Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads announced its merger with 11-attorney Crawford Wilson & Ryan in West Chester, Pa., at the end of May, and firm Chairman Stephen A. Madva said he wants to continue to grow the firm to more than 200 lawyers through additional mergers. Buchanan Ingersoll and Klett Rooney Lieber & Schorling merged in June in one of the first intra-city mergers in more than two decades. The new firm, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, now has nearly 550 lawyers. Reed Smith now has its largest office in London after its merger with London-based Richards Butler. The partnerships of both firms approved the merger at the beginning of this month and it will become effective in January 2007. Drinker Biddle isn’t only interested in the Chicago market: The firm has said that it is interested in growing in Delaware, and there was speculation earlier in the year about a possible merger with Delaware-based The Bayard Firm.

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