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Looking for a greater presence in Chicago, Milwaukee-based Foley & Lardner is negotiating a possible merger with local “marquee” firm Hopkins & Sutter. Such a merger would more than double the size of Foley’s Chicago office and add several specialty areas, including Hopkins’ respected airport and regulatory practices. While there is confirmation about merger talks from both firms, word is that discussions are in a “very preliminary stage,” although a spokesman for Hopkins acknowledged the firm is currently in exclusive negotiations with Foley. “We’re just talking,” said Foley’s chief in Chicago, Richard J. Phelan, a litigator and former president of the Cook County, Ill., Board of Commissioners. “We want to expand our presence here in Chicago, and we want to be associated with a marquee firm,” Phelan said. “Hopkins & Sutter fills the bill.” Phelan praised Hopkins for a “fine tax practice,” as well as solid airport, regulatory and real estate practices. He also noted Foley’s strengths in real estate and its trial and corporate groups. “In some sense these are niches, and those are things you have to start looking at,” he said. A Foley, Hopkins merger or acquisition makes “eminent sense” to Chicago area legal recruiter Kay Hoppe of Credentia. The firms, she said, share a similar firm culture and can match each other’s strengths in common areas and fill in gaps where one or the other is weak. And while neither has a particularly strong corporate practice, Hoppe predicted that a Foley Hopkins merger, by virtue of its size, would be able to attract a big piece of the corporate pie. Hoppe also expects that Hopkins, despite its relatively small size, won’t be swallowed up by Foley, which now boasts 750 members and 1,000 support staff in 14 offices stretching from San Diego, Calif., to Brussels, Belgium. Founded in 1842 and bolstered by a 1996 merger with Weissburg and Aronson Inc., Foley has about 100 attorneys in its Chicago office. In Chicago since 1921 and in Washington, D.C., since 1923, Hopkins & Sutter has about 110 attorneys in Chicago and 30 in D.C. “The strength of the leadership of Hopkins will be embraced,” Hoppe said. “It’s not an acquisition that will dissolve into nothingness.” Still, no matter how much sense a merger makes, it’s far from a done deal. “It’s got good prospects,” Hoppe said. But, she added, “A deal can break down to the last minute.”

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