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What’s not to love about San Francisco’s McCutchen, Doyle, Brown & Enersen, besides its track record for jilting would-be merger-mates, that is? In the past four years, the 323-lawyer firm has flirted with as many as three dozen suitors, but still has yet to commit despite its strong desire to hook up with an East Coast counterpart. Will Bingham Dana be the next to be cast aside, or will McCutchen Doyle finally find a merger partner that holds up to its picky standards? Hank Shafran, the Boston-based firm’s spokesman, confirmed last week that Bingham and McCutchen Doyle are, indeed, embroiled in merger discussions. But he did so in the most ambivalent way possible. “We are talking to them,” Shafran said. “But we believe in growth, and we talk to a lot of people.” He declined to say how long the two sides have been in discussions. That 514-lawyer Bingham — which has grown substantially in recent years through mergers with Hartford’s Hebb & Gitlin and New York’s Richards & O’Neil, among others — is looking to expand out West is not surprising. Currently, the three lawyers in the firm’s Los Angeles office make up Bingham’s sole West Coast foothold. Judging on the quality of its past merger mates, Bingham, no doubt, has discerning tastes of its own. But McCutchen Doyle is widely seen as a good catch. It brings to the table a reputable litigation team. Indeed, a little more than half its lawyers are litigators. In the past year, the firm also has taken sharp measures to increase its profitability — in part to increase its attractiveness as a merger candidate. Although the firm’s 2001 profits were up over the prior year, some partners who didn’t make McCutchen Doyle’s 1,850 billable hour target were denied bonuses, whereas in past years the policy had not been strictly enforced. It also reduced the equity stakes of a few older partners and converted their compensation to a mix of equity and salary. Roughly a dozen junior equity partners had their shares in the firm reduced, as well. The firm was ranked as the nation’s 102nd largest firm on the most recent Am Law 200 list, with a 2000 gross revenue of $143 million. The firm reported its 2001 profits per equity partner at $600,000, up from $550,000 the year before. (Bingham, according to Am Law 200 figures for 2000, had a gross revenue of $208.5 million and Boston’s best profits per equity partner of $855,000.) Last year, McCutchen Doyle also came close to marrying Washington, D.C.-based Piper Marbury Rudnick & Wolfe. But the deal fizzled last summer. “There just wasn’t enough chemistry,” McCutchen chairman Donn Pickett told The American Lawyer magazine. Some McCutchen partners didn’t like the idea of merging with Piper, and the possibility of messing up McCutchen’s culture. Said one: “Why would we put a lot at risk to change the firm? We’re a very successful firm doing what we’re doing.”

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