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Atlanta-based Long Aldridge & Norman and Dallas-based Winstead Sechrest & Minick have retained consultants Hildebrandt International to guide them through merger discussions. Lisa R. Smith, a Hildebrandt executive director and co-author of the second edition of “Anatomy of a Law Firm Merger,” says the two firms contacted Hildebrandt within the last week. She says she’ll work with both firms as the negotiations progress, but can’t comment specifically. News of the Dallas-Atlanta courtship appeared in Tuesday’s Daily Report. And that may have been the first that many Long Aldridge lawyers had heard about the deal. Addressing the published story, Long Aldridge President and Chief Operating Officer Jeffrey K. Haidet distributed an internal e-mail to reassure his troops. In the memo, Haidet wrote, “I know many of you read yesterday’s Fulton County Daily Report article on the firm.” He continued, “It is correct that we have had discussions with that firm about a possible transaction.” The e-mail says the firm also has been approached by other firms about the prospect of a merger. “What is not accurate in the article,” Haidet wrote, “is that Long Aldridge & Norman is about to be acquired. We are not considering being acquired by any firm, including the Winstead firm. The partnership has determined that we will only consider a merger of equals opportunities which will preserve our culture, personnel and leadership.” Under the May 1 headline, “Long Aldridge Talking Merger With Dallas Firm,” the story referred to “discussions that could lead to [Long Aldridge's] acquisition by a Texas firm nearly twice its size.” Haidet closed the e-mail by saying, “For the record, both [Managing Partner] Mike Baggett of the Winstead firm and I made it very clear to the reporters at the Daily Report that these discussions involved a merger of equals but they apparently decided to publish their own version of reality — how unusual.” Long Aldridge & Norman is the Daily Report‘s primary law firm. In a telephone interview on Wednesday, Haidet said, “I’m not thinking of this as an acquisition.” He also noted, “I’m a mergers and acquisitions lawyer,” and says he knows the difference between a merger and an acquisition. As it happened, Baggett was in Atlanta Tuesday for an arbitration held at Rogers & Hardin. He says, however, he didn’t talk to any Long Aldridge lawyers about the possible merger. Later that day, two Winstead lawyers with luggage were overheard on an airport-bound MARTA train conversing about the rumors their firm might merge with Long Aldridge. Reached Wednesday, Baggett demurred. Tuesday’s Daily Report story, he said, had gotten the lawyers at Winstead “in a lather.” Many of the associates, he says, weren’t aware of the merger talks. Baggett declined to comment further on the merger discussions, he says, because lawyers at both firms are “hollerin’ ” at him. On a combined basis, the two firms represent $156 million in 2000 gross revenues and approximately 420 lawyers, spread among Atlanta, Dallas, Austin, Houston, Fort Worth, and The Woodlands, Texas; Washington, and Mexico City. Winstead accounts for an estimated $90 million, or 58 percent, of those revenues, and 275, or almost two-thirds, of the headcount. A merged Winstead-Long Aldridge would rank third in the “ Daily Report Dozen,” if still counted as an Atlanta firm, and 84th in the companion AmLaw 100 national financial rankings. Briefly … James R. McGuone, formerly a corporate and technology partner with Gambrell & Stolz, has joined Holland & Knight’s Atlanta office as a partner. McGuone is a member of H&K’s corporate and technology group. Ray S. Smith III and Ricky C. Benjamin have joined with John J. McManus to form McManus, Smith & Benjamin. The firm has offices in Tucker and Athens, Ga., and practices general civil litigation and real estate law. William M. Ragland Jr., a technology partner with Powell Goldstein Frazer & Murphy, has been elected secretary to the Atlanta Bar Association. Ragland heads the firm’s technology and intellectual property litigation group and is a founding board member of Eagle Partners, Powell Goldstein’s venture that provides legal services to high-growth companies.

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