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Atlanta’s biggest law firm union could be in the offing if merger talks succeed between Troutman Sanders and Richmond, Va.-based Mays & Valentine. Both Troutman Sanders Managing Partner Robert W. Webb Jr., and Robert D. Seabolt, the managing partner of Mays & Valentine, confirm the talks. But the firms still are in “very preliminary discussions,” says Webb. If the union takes place, it won’t exactly be a joinder of equals in terms of size. Troutman Sanders has about 275 lawyers spread among offices in Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and Hong Kong. Mays & Valentine has 145 in four Virginia offices: Richmond, Tysons Corner, Virginia Beach and Norfolk. The combined firm’s 420 attorneys would make it Atlanta’s biggest merger. Up to now, the largest local union was the 1997 combination of Kilpatrick & Cody and North Carolina’s Petree Stockton, with about 375 attorneys. The merger that could have topped them both at 580 lawyers — between Powell, Goldstein, Frazer & Murphy and another Richmond firm, McGuire, Woods, Battle & Boothe — fizzled. Like Troutman, Mays & Valentine is a full-service firm. Troutman is known primarily for its energy practice and work for clients such as Southern Co. It also handles work for media clients such as Turner Broadcasting. In 1999, Troutman handled the $9 billion merger of energy companies Illinova and Dynegy. Mays & Valentine’s Seabolt says his firm is known as a financial institutions firm, and its primary practice areas are banking, finance, real estate, litigation and government relations. The firm also was selected by the Virginia Commission on Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization to act as fiduciary agent in distributing funds from the state’s tobacco settlement to growers and quota holders. CONSIDERED LEADING LOBBY FIRM The Washington Post has referred to Mays & Valentine as one of Richmond’s leading lobbying firms. The firm does government relations work for cable companies Comcast Corp., AT&T, Bell Atlantic and other Internet service providers. Troutman Sanders and Mays & Valentine both count AT&T as a client. AT&T recently got the Justice Department’s blessing of its $58 billion acquisition of cable television company MediaOne Group Inc., a Mays & Valentine client. Webb won’t comment on the firms’ clients or whether they are one of the motivations for the proposed union. One longtime Richmond lawyer who asked not to be named speculates that Mays & Valentine’s motivation is a need to update its sterling, but old-line image. A Troutman motivation, he says, could be leveraging Mays & Valentine’s Northern Virginia office with its own Washington outpost. The Richmond lawyer calls Mays & Valentine, founded in 1926, “one of the oldest and most respected Richmond law firms.” He says Mays & Valentine is viewed as a “gentlemen’s firm.” Its top senior partners include commercial transactions lawyer C. Cotesworth Pinckney, corporate and securities lawyer F. Claiborne Johnston Jr. and litigator James C. Roberts. But the firm’s old-line reputation can be a two-edged sword, the lawyer says. Some older firms are viewed as less dynamic and creative compared to firms that have embraced the current culture of youth, technology and dot-coms. Mays & Valentine does appear to be boosting its “New Economy” capabilities. Earlier this year, it affiliated with mV-10, a new management-consulting firm founded by two former Mays & Valentine lawyers. The consulting firm specializes in business change, reorganization and start-up ventures. Seabolt says his firm also recently added technology law muscle in its Tysons Corner office, located in Northern Virginia’s high-tech corridor. The firm has about 13 lawyers in Tysons Corner, according to information on its Web site; Troutman Sanders has about 32 lawyers in Washington. But Mays & Valentine hasn’t grown as fast as some of its counterparts. For example, a quarter century ago Mays & Valentine and another Richmond-based firm with an Atlanta office, Hunton & Williams, were about the same size and viewed as equals. Over the years, the two firms took different paths. Hunton & Williams now has about 700 lawyers in 15 U.S. and overseas offices, according to information on its Web site. Mays & Valentine has grown by 35 or so lawyers over the past five years, Seabolt says. The firm divides its 145 lawyers among a quartet of Virginia offices. GOLDILOCKS SYNDROME Another factor in Mays & Valentine’s motivation for a merger may be that it is not big enough to be truly broad-based and isn’t specialized enough to be a boutique, says the Richmond lawyer. Troutman may want to broaden its client base and boost partner profits. Troutman Sanders’ saw a healthy 17 percent growth in 1999 revenue, to $90 million, placing it sixth on the [Fulton County] Daily Report Dozen ranking of Atlanta’s richest law firms. But its equity partners’ average profits of $355,556 ranked 10th overall (June 27, 2000). Seabolt declines to discuss his firm’s revenue or profits, and says his firm has “essentially a one-tier partnership.” But the firm’s leverage of 1.61 is revealing. It’s significantly lower than the Daily Report Dozen firms’ average of 2.88, and indicates a large number of partners must share the profit pie, meaning smaller pieces for everyone. Troutman Sanders’ leverage is 2.93. Leverage at the Daily Report Dozen firm with the highest average equity partners’ profit was 3.68. That’s at King & Spalding, where partners earned $768,116.

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