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Merger talks between Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart and Ford & Harrison have started and stopped. The Atlanta-based labor and employment firms confirmed they were considering a union until recently, but neither would specify a reason for the breakdown in talks. L. Gray Geddie Jr., Ogletree Deakins’ managing partner, said the firms started discussions in April. “Our partners … are just not ready for a merger of equals,” Geddie said. He added that the firms will maintain a “very good relationship.” Ogletree Deakins’ 2001 profit per equity partner was $292,208, according to last year’s [ Fulton County] Daily Report Dozen ranking of Georgia’s highest-grossing firms. Ford & Harrison equity partners received an average of $337,562, according to numbers provided by the firm earlier this year. Both labor and employment firms have expanded rapidly into new territory over the past five years. Since 1997, Ogletree Deakins has opened offices in Birmingham, Ala.; Indianapolis; St. Thomas, Virgin Islands; San Antonio; Chicago; and Dallas. The firm has grown to 160 attorneys from about 120 in 1997. FORD & HARRISON SPREADS OUT Ford & Harrison opened a Birmingham office last year and offices in Denver and Orlando, Fla., in 2000. In 1999, the firm opened in Jacksonville, Fla. The firm had 105 lawyers in 1997, compared to 140 now. Ford & Harrison managing partner C. Lash Harrison said, “We have had some preliminary conversations and decided this wasn’t the time to do anything.” He wouldn’t discuss specifics but added that Ford & Harrison frequently talks with other firms about merger possibilities. The combination would have created a 300-attorney labor and employment firm that would have ranked seventh on the most recent Daily Report Dozen. Ogletree Deakins had 2001 revenue of $61 million and placed 10th in the latest Daily Report Dozen ranking. Ford & Harrison reported 2001 revenue of $39.5 million. The combined revenue of $100.5 million would have put the merged firm ahead of Morris, Manning & Martin, Long Aldridge & Norman (now McKenna Long & Aldridge) and Smith, Gambrell & Russell on last year’s Daily Report Dozen. The merger also would have given both firms better geographic reach. Ogletree has offices in Birmingham, Ala.; Charleston, Columbia and Greenville, S.C.; Dallas, San Antonio and Houston, Texas; Chicago; Indianapolis; Nashville, Tenn.; Raleigh, N.C.; St. Thomas, Virgin Islands; and Washington. Ford & Harrison has offices in Birmingham; Denver; Jacksonville, Orlando, Miami and Tampa, Fla.; Los Angeles; Memphis, Tenn.; and Washington. LONG ALDRIDGE MERGER Atlanta-based Long Aldridge & Norman merged with Washington’s McKenna & Cuneo on June 1, creating 366-lawyer McKenna Long & Aldridge. In January 2001, Troutman Sanders merged with Richmond, Va.-based Mays & Valentine to form a 450-lawyer firm, the biggest union Atlanta has seen. In February 2001, Burr & Forman voted against merging with Memphis-based Baker, Donelson, Bearman & Caldwell. The combination would have created a 400-lawyer firm with six offices in Tennessee; Jackson, Miss.; Washington; Birmingham and Montgomery; and Atlanta. Potential client conflicts prevented the firms from combining, said William C. Knight Jr., Burr’s managing partner. Lee E. Boeke, managing partner of 100-lawyer labor and employment firm Constangy, Brooks & Smith, said he’s unfamiliar with the specifics of Ogletree Deakins and Ford & Harrison’s merger talks but weighed the pros and cons of such a union. “In their case, it would almost double the size of the firm,” Boeke said. When large boutiques merge, he added, they become more attractive to a national client base because of increased size and added offices. One firm may have an office closer to a client of the other firm, Boeke said, and that proximity is more cost-effective for the client. Also, the ability to consolidate administrative functions by eliminating duplicate positions is a benefit of merging, Boeke said. Problems come into play when firm personalities clash, Boeke said. “Each firm has a personality just like an individual,” he added, and sometimes the firm cultures don’t match. That can lead to dissension and turnover, said Boeke.

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