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The decision-makers in the now-failed marriage between Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe and Dewey Ballantine undertook a public relations strategy that locked arms with the media as the law firms made their way to the altar. But the demise of the would-be merger raises questions as to the firms’ out-front approach to releasing information about the deal and as to whether the plan did more public relations damage in the end. Following September leak about the possibility of a merger between Orrick, with its origins in San Francisco, and New York’s Dewey Ballantine, the two firms tried to take the helm of the developing story through numerous press releases and interviews about the deal’s progress. Although the firms’ bright-light tack likely was welcomed by observers eager to know more about the creation of a 1,500-attorney law firm, it also may have made the failure seem that much darker when the deal collapsed. “We thought that we should be forthcoming because we knew there would be unusual attention to it,” said Ralph Baxter, chairman of Orrick. And forthcoming they were. When the news broke on Sept. 12 about the planned merger, Dewey Chairman Morton Pierce reportedly made an appearance the next day at Orrick’s New York office for a book signing by Orrick partner Lanny Davis. The next month, the firms announced that a full partnership vote was pending. At the same time, they announced that the new firm would be called Dewey Orrick and that they would continue to use the “O” logo. In the staid culture of law firm public relations, such a move appeared daring, given that firm names often are touchy subjects in merger deals. Also in October, Baxter and Pierce talked at length to a reporter for The Recorder, an affiliate of The National Law Journal, about their plans to work together as the new firm’s leaders. Tough to control But trying to control the message appeared to get more difficult as the viability of the deal began to dim after a partner vote was postponed and when some key Dewey attorneys defected. The firms continued to talk to the press, although their marketing staffers started fielding more calls. And when irreconcilable differences doomed the deal, Baxter and Pierce did some explaining to all those reporter acquaintances they had made along the way. Intense buildup to a proposed merger may create a bigger story when the merger fails than if the parties take a more tight-lipped approach from the start, said Ross Fishman, president of Ross Fishman Marketing in Chicago, a law firm marketing company. “Spreading too much information runs the risk of making it seems more permanent than it really is,” he said. Thelen Reid & Priest and Brown Raysman Millstein Felder & Steiner decided on a conservative public relations strategy during their merger process last year. Although the media began reporting hints of a deal in June, the firm made no announcement until Oct. 30. One month later, it was finalized. “We didn’t want to be premature,” said Stephen O’Neal, co-chairman of Thelen Reid Brown Raysman & Steiner. By waiting, the firms ran the risk of losing “a certain amount of publicity,” he said, but that gamble was better than the embarrassment of a failed deal. O’Neal added that keeping partners updated about the deal’s progress was critical to minimizing rumors within the firms.

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