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San Francisco insolvency and commercial finance boutique Murphy Sheneman Julian & Rogers is merging with Chicago’s Winston & Strawn. Partners at both firms have voted to approve the merger, with the combination slated to officially take effect on Feb. 1, according to Murphy Sheneman Chairman Patrick Murphy. “We’re still dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, but I would say it’s essentially a done deal,” said Murphy. The merger, which has been in the works since June, folds the 43-attorney Murphy Sheneman into an 800-lawyer, international firm, with overseas offices in Paris and Geneva. The combination furthers Winston & Strawn’s mission to establish a West Coast foothold, giving the firm its first San Francisco office and bolstering its 2-year-old Los Angeles outpost, where Murphy Sheneman’s only other office is located. Winston & Strawn Chairman James Thompson Jr., a former governor of Illinois, and Managing Partner James Neis were out of the country and unable to comment. A spokesperson at the firm did not return a call for comment. While Winston & Strawn has several restructuring attorneys in its ranks, the firm does not list restructuring, insolvency or bankruptcy among its practices on its Web site. “I think that in this environment a firm like [Murphy Sheneman] is very attractive to a firm like Winston & Strawn that wants to build its insolvency and commercial finance practices,” said William Weintraub, a Pachulski, Stang, Ziehl, Young & Jones partner who practiced for 10 years at Murphy Sheneman. Insolvency and bankruptcy are busy practices as more and more companies encounter financial difficulties in a down economy. According to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, business bankruptcy filings for the 12-month period ending Sept. 30, 2002, were up almost 7 percent, at 38,490. And Chapter 11 corporate bankruptcy cases are getting bigger and more complex. Seven of the 10 largest Chapter 11 cases in U.S. history have been filed in the past year and a half, with Worldcom and Enron occupying the top two spots, with $103.9 billion and $63.4 billion in assets, respectively. By pairing up with Winston & Strawn, Murphy Sheneman’s restructuring attorneys gain an entree into New York, where a great deal of bankruptcy cases are filed today. “There’s no question that New York is the center of the action now, certainly in the bankruptcy field and the commercial field generally,” said Peter Benvenutti, head of the bankruptcy practice at San Francisco-based Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe. Winston & Strawn grossed $411 million in revenues for 2001, with average profits per partner of $735,000, according to Recorder and law.com affiliate The American Lawyer magazine. Murphy would not divulge his firm’s financial results, but said “the numbers fit pretty well.” He also declined to discuss the terms of the deal, but described the amount of cash changing hands as “not a big deal.” The merger comes just as Murphy Sheneman nears its 25th birthday. “When you’ve been small and independent for a long time, it’s always kind of a daunting thing,” said Murphy, “but I think people are very excited.”

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