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Bostonians know all about the Big Dig, the massive and seemingly endless roadway reconstruction project that promises to overhaul the city’s highway system. But Boston’s Am Law 100 firms are going through a reconstruction of their own — one that doesn’t involve jackhammers. Historically some of the nation’s most insular law firms, Boston’s big legal players are finally looking for expansion opportunities beyond the Back Bay. The days when Boston-based firms were willing to thrive solely on local strength are over. Except for tech specialist Testa, Hurwitz & Thibeault (which did not join the Am Law 100 until 1999), all of the city’s Am Law 100 firms have had offices outside Boston since 1994. (Bingham Dana opened the first, in 1973, followed by Hale and Dorr; Ropes & Gray; and Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo in the ’80s; and Goodwin Procter in 1994.) But it’s only been in the last few years that these firms have made a real push to have more than a handful of lawyers outside of their home city. No Boston firm has done this more effectively than 500-lawyer Bingham Dana. Six years ago, the firm had just 20 lawyers in three locations outside Boston. Now it has 225, or 45 percent, of its lawyers based in six locations outside of Boston: Hartford, London, New York, Los Angeles, Singapore, and Washington, D.C. At press time it was the only Boston-based firm with a presence on both the West Coast and overseas. Despite this year’s economic slowdown, the firm has continued its expansionist ways. In May it more than doubled the size of its New York office by acquiring Richards & O’Neil, an 84-lawyer general practice firm. Bingham Dana began its expansion in 1994 shortly after electing Jay Zimmerman the firm’s managing partner. Zimmerman, who had completed a tour in Bingham’s London office, took over a firm that was primarily doing work for a few of Boston’s largest banks: Bank of Boston, Shawmut, Fleet Bank, and Bank of New England. Then the consolidation of the banking industry hit. Bank of Boston and Shawmut both eventually merged into Fleet, and Bank of New England was closed. So the firm turned elsewhere, beginning with New York. Much of the expansion has been accomplished through acquisitions of smaller firms. For example, Bingham Dana’s offices in New York and Los Angeles are the legacy of its 1997 acquisition of New York’s 25-lawyer Marks & Murase, which had expertise in Japanese law. Likewise, Bingham Dana opened its Singapore office in 1999 after acquiring Hartford’s 55-lawyer Hebb & Gitlin, which had wanted to open an office there. In addition to acquiring firms, Bingham has taken on 37 lateral partners over the past six years, and, in turn, has expanded its client base to include companies such as Aetna Inc., Prudential Financial, and Owens Corning. As a result of its expansion, Bingham Dana has gone from a heavy reliance on banking clients to a more balanced orientation. According to Zimmerman, the firm’s business today is about 10 percent to 15 percent banking and finance, 15 percent to 20 percent insolvency work (which includes workouts, restructuring, and bankruptcy), 30 percent litigation, and 30 percent nonbanking corporate work, which includes the firm’s commercial technology practice. The firm’s trusts and estates work accounts for the remainder. The expansion has also boosted Bingham Dana’s bottom line. After historically trailing Ropes & Gray; Hale and Dorr; Goodwin Procter; and Mintz Levin among Boston firms, Bingham Dana didn’t make the top 100 until 1996. This year its gross revenue put it fourth among Boston’s five Am Law 100 firms, but its profits per equity partner of $855,000 were the city’s highest. Bingham Dana’s closest local competitor in terms of geographic diversification is Mintz Levin, which has 173, or 35 percent, of its 490 lawyers based in four satellite offices. Hale and Dorr follows with 29 percent in three locations; Goodwin Procter with 20 percent in three locations; and Ropes & Gray with 15 percent in three locations. But all of those firms are eager to grow outside of the city. Goodwin Procter, for example, added 30 litigation attorneys to its New York office in March, bringing the size of the office to about 55 lawyers, and managing partner Regina Pisa says the firm plans to make the office even bigger. Similarly, Mintz Levin managing partner Irwin Heller says that his firm is actively trying to add lawyers to its New York office of about 60 lawyers but is most focused on increasing the size of its 27-lawyer office in Reston, Va. The exception to the rule is Testa Hurwitz, Boston’s only single-office Boston Am Law 100 firm. “We’ve been very successful operating in a single office,” says managing partner William Asher, Jr., of Testa Hurwitz, the firm renowned for helping bring many of Massachusetts’s Route 128 companies into existence. “There’s nothing on the drawing board, but that could change.” In other words, never say never — at least not in a market that has become as outward-oriented as Boston.

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