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Winnowing by one the steadily dwindling ranks of midsize firms in Manhattan, the 75-lawyer general practice firm Richards & O’Neil said this week that it will merge with fast-growing Bingham Dana of Boston. The agreement, which takes effect May 1, will create a firm of about 500 lawyers and more than double the size of Bingham Dana’s New York branch, to 125 attorneys. Bingham Dana also has offices in Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles; Hartford, Conn.; London; and Singapore. Richards & O’Neil has had a three-lawyer outpost in Greenwich, Conn., but that group will not be a part of the merger. Michael Braun, a member of Richards & O’Neil’s executive committee, said his firm made a strategic decision to find a merger partner as clients began to demand greater depth and breadth of service. “You have to be realistic,” he explained. “You have to consider something like this if the right partner comes along. Fortunately for us, the right partner came along.” The combination is the latest in an ongoing expansion for Bingham Dana, which has grown from less than 200 lawyers to about 500 over the last six years. The New York office, which started with 20 lawyers in 1997, had grown to about 50, with specialties in financial restructuring and project finance, and the firm had been looking to add more bulk. “We feel that a very substantial New York practice is essential,” said Bingham Dana managing partner Jay S. Zimmerman. “We’ve been looking for the right type of move in New York to get to the next level.” Initial conversations about a merger began last November and concluded with relatively smooth negotiations over the last few weeks. Braun and fellow Richards & O’Neil executive committee member Brian D. Beglin said they were so confident in the cultural fit between the firms that there will be no institutionalized representation for Richards & O’Neil in Bingham Dana’s management. “We’re gladly handing it over to Jay,” Braun said. PARTNERSHIP STRUCTURE In terms of partnership structure, Richards & O’Neil has a single-tier arrangement, while Bingham Dana makes both equity and non-equity partners. Zimmerman and Braun said the decisions on which category former Richards & O’Neil partners will fall into will be made on an ongoing basis. On the financial side, Bingham Dana will report profits per equity partner of $855,000 for 2000. Richards & O’Neil declined to provide profits per partner figures, but leaders of the firms said the numbers for the two firms were relatively close when all partners, including those of non-equity status at Bingham Dana, were considered. Founded in 1891, Bingham Dana has a string of old-line Boston clients, including The Boston Globe and the Boston Red Sox baseball team. It has expanded aggressively in recent years, bolstering its insolvency practice in 1999 with the addition of the 55-lawyer Hartford-based firm Hebb & Gitlin. In New York, the firm brought on former Southern District Chief Bankruptcy Judge Tina Brozman as an insolvency partner last year. Richards & O’Neil, which is known for its corporate transactional, litigation and real estate practices, also has an active Asian practice, with Japanese clients such as Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd. and Kirin Brewery Company Ltd. The merger is another in a string of mergers between midsize New York firms and large out-of-town firms. In little more than a year’s time, the following firms have joined ranks: Walter, Conston, Alexander & Green and Atlanta’s Alston & Bird; Parker Chapin and Dallas’ Jenkens & Gilchrist; Whitman Breed Abbott & Morgan and Chicago’s Winston & Strawn; Winthrop, Stimson, Putnam & Roberts and San Francisco’s Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro; and Battle Fowler and Los Angeles’ Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker.

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