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Dallas-based Strasburger & Price will acquire Griggs & Harrison of Houston on April 1, a deal contingent on resolving a few client conflicts. Partners in 202-lawyer Strasburger and shareholders in 25-lawyer Griggs & Harrison have conditionally approved the deal, which has been under negotiation for 18 months. The combination will create a 227-lawyer firm, with Strasburger maintaining its position as the 14th largest firm in Texas with offices in Dallas, Houston, Austin, San Antonio, Mexico City and Paris. But the deal adds three lawyers to Strasburger’s Austin office and gives it a substantial boost in Houston, more than doubling the size of that office. Strasburger has been in Houston since early 1994, but it has only 18 lawyers on the ground in Texas’ largest city. Griggs & Harrison, which is known for its energy, maritime and litigation practices, will gain the competitive advantage offered by a full-service, regional firm. Lawyers from both firms expect to reap the benefits of cross-selling. J. Wiley George, Strasburger’s partner in charge of the Houston office, says the firm has been looking to add to its strength in Houston for some time. He says talks started because a number of lawyers at Strasburger knew lawyers at Griggs & Harrison and in particular knew of the high reputation of transactional partner W. Garney Griggs. Griggs says that while talks between the firms started 18 months ago, the negotiations got serious six months ago. As one of a dwindling number of strong small and mid-sized firms in Houston, Griggs concedes he has weathered approaches from many firms in recent years seeking to merge with Griggs & Harrison. He says Strasburger’s culture gave it the edge. “More important is we like the people, and that makes a big difference. It’s not to say we dislike people in different firms. We just had a very good feeling,” he says. Rob Rowland, a legal-search consultant in Houston who brought the firms to the table, says it’s a great deal for Strasburger because the firm not only boosts its lawyer count in Houston, but gets a strong transactional practice. He says Griggs has built a niche practice in the marine transactions area and the energy, oilfield service transactional area. “And of course that’s what’s hot now. That’s what’s keeping the Houston economy strong,” says Rowland, of Associated Counsel of America. Rowland says the deal also provides a place for the Griggs & Harrison lawyers to stick together. RESOLVING THE CONFLICTS Griggs and George do not anticipate trouble resolving the outstanding client conflicts. George says Strasburger will acquire all the lawyers and a significant portion of the assets of Griggs & Harrison in the deal. Once it’s a deal, most of Griggs & Harrison’s shareholders will join Strasburger as partners, except for two younger shareholders who will move to Strasburger as senior counsel on a partnership track and one older shareholder who will become of counsel, Griggs says. Profits per partners at Strasburger averaged $285,000 in 1999 and revenue per lawyer averaged $294,000, according to Texas Lawyer‘s annual report on firm finance. Comparable information from the 32-year-old Griggs & Harrison was not collected because of the firm’s relatively small size, but Griggs and George say financials match up. George, who moved to Houston in 1994 to open Strasburger’s office, says that Strasburger lawyers in Houston will move into the Griggs & Harrison offices. Griggs & Harrison has a significant litigation practice for clients in the marine and energy businesses. Griggs says transactional lawyers at the firm do a lot of work in those same industries. Clients include Atwood Oceanics Inc., a drilling company, and Gulfmark Offshore Inc., a marine transportation company, along with Schlumberger Group, Kirby Corp. and Southwest Bank of Texas, he says. George will continue to manage the Houston office. Griggs will join Strasburger’s management committee. If the Griggs & Harrison lawyers ink the papers to join Strasburger, it will be the third time that 62-year-old Strasburger has absorbed an entire firm. But Strasburger has not always had success with major deals. In January 1999, Strasburger acquired Wells Pinckney & McHugh, which had 42 lawyers and offices in San Antonio and Corpus Christi. But that deal cracked eight months later when a large group of the lawyers defected and joined Houston-based Bracewell & Patterson. In 1990, lawyers from Austin’s Armbrust & Brown opened Strasburger’s Austin office. But 15 lawyers, including most of the Armbrust & Brown group, left Strasburger in 1997 to form Armbrust Brown & Davis. In 1997, Strasburger flirted with Houston’s Hutcheson & Grundy, but talks broke off, and 71-lawyer Hutcheson & Grundy ended up dissolving in February 1998.

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