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Amid the departures of two more key rainmakers to Edwards & Angell’s Stamford, Conn., office, Cummings & Lockwood — or at least a significant number of its partners — is shopping around for a merger mate, sources say. A little more than a week ago, Cummings management advised the Stamford-based firm’s support staff that it is in strategic negotiations with other firms, according to sources. Few details were announced during the meeting, held to allay staffers’ fears over their job security; the only potential merger mate specifically identified, sources said, was Rochester, N.Y.-based Nixon Peabody, which has more than 600 lawyers in 13 cities, including a one-lawyer operation in Hartford. Reached last week, Eric Watt Wiechmann, head of Cummings’ Hartford office and a member of its board of directors, acknowledged that firm leaders are weighing a host of merger and acquisition possibilities. “The firm is looking at a lot of options to beef itself up,” particularly in light of recent partner defections to Edwards & Angell and elsewhere, he said. Still, no formal talks are underway, both Wiechmann and Cummings managing partner Jonathan B. Mills insisted. Asked about the announcement to the firm’s support staff, Mills declined comment. “It’s up in the air right now,” added Wiechmann, who also serves on the executive committee governing it business clients practice. Nixon Peabody, Wiechmann confirmed, is among the firms with whom informal discussions have taken place. Neither he nor Mills, however, would divulge any details of those discussions, which Mills characterized as strategic planning and growth initiatives. Such efforts, Wiechmann noted, predate the recent batch of departures. “Even before [those losses], we were considering where we are in the marketplace,” he said. Calls to Nixon Peabody management were returned by firm spokesman William Albert, who declined comment, other than to say the firm frequently entertains merger talks with other legal outfits. “We are always looking for ways to expand our practice,” he said. Without question, Nixon Peabody is in a growth mode. Effective Feb. 1, Nixon Peabody absorbed the roughly 60-lawyer Hutchins, Wheeler & Dittmar, which had been Boston’s oldest law firm. Nixon Peabody, which has East Coast offices stretching from Manchester, N.H., to Northern Virginia, also gained a substantial California presence in 2001 through the addition of 70-lawyer Lillick & Charles. In a 1998 interview with The Connecticut Law Tribune, Hartford partner Alphonso E. Tindall Jr. said Nixon’s eventual goal was operate a full-fledged operation in Connecticut, instead of an outpost focusing almost exclusively on bond work. Like Cummings & Lockwood, the firm belongs to an organization known as the “Seven Sisters,” an affiliation of law firms, whose territories largely do not overlap one another, that meet regularly to share input on management and other issues. Though Cummings partners remained tight-lipped last week, the most likely scenario, lawyers with close ties to the firm say, is that a significant amount of the non-trusts and estates attorneys still there would expand Nixon Peabody’s presence in Connecticut, while the firm’s private clients group would retain the Cummings & Lockwood name. Cummings management, however, dismissed such speculation. The recently announced departures of intellectual property partners Barry Kramer, Scott Wofsy and Daniel F. Coughlin, as well as labor and employment partner Marc L. Zaken, to Edwards & Angell’s Stamford office, are a severe blow to the business clients side of Cummings. Corporate attorney Vincent M. Kiernan, who started the exodus of partners to the new E&A outpost late last year, said a number of Cummings’ IP associates also may leave with Kramer, who is expected to join Edwards & Angell next month, if not before. (Cummings’ partnership agreement has a 30-day notice provision.) Kramer joined Cummings & Lockwood in 1995 to build the firm’s intellectual property practice. The chairman of that group, Kramer is one of the firm’s top business generators, as was Zaken, sources said. Mills confirmed the most recent departures, but otherwise declined comment. “We’re still working out the specifics of that,” he said. The resignations follow that of Charles M. Tatelbaum, who had chaired C&L creditors’ rights practice group, to Shutts & Bowen’s Miami office, as well as former corporate practice head Thomas J. Freed, Kiernan, and two other corporate partners to Edwards & Angell. One former partner last week said Cummings & Lockwood’s decision to create separate management committees for its trusts-and-estates and corporate clients groups exacerbated what had been divisions between the firm’s two main lines of business. “There was very different visions for the future between the two groups,” that lawyer said. The private clients group “wanted to be a little smaller and not grow as much. … I think they also wanted more control,” that lawyer said. ” … There was a great degree of inflexibility with some people” on both sides, he maintained. Adding to the tensions, sources said, is the upcoming renewal of the Stamford office lease. “The renewal was going to be almost a doubling of the rent,” one former lawyer said. Many T&E partners are at odds with their business client counterparts over the necessity of being located in downtown Stamford, that person said. Still other former partners, though acknowledging the difficulties, said they believed the firm will overcome them. Cummings & Lockwood, which is nearing its 100th anniversary, has been able to keep its large corporate and T&E practices together thus far, one said. The two sides also have a strong financial reason to stick together, in that a large amount of the business clients group’s work comes from executives already represented by the firm’s wealth management group and vice versa. The lease renewal is not an immediate concern, that former partner said.

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