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Merger discussions between Cummings & Lockwood and Nixon Peabody have fizzled, and Cummings is now focusing its sights on New Jersey powerhouse McCarter & English, sources say. Management at both Stamford, Conn.-based C&L and Newark, N.J.,-based McCarter & English refused to either confirm or deny they are in the midst of discussing a possible union. But Andrew T. Berry, chairman of McCarter’s executive committee, acknowledged last week that his firm’s goal is to substantially expand its Hartford, Conn. office. It’s uncertain how many Cummings & Lockwood lawyers would join McCarter under such a move, but former C&L partners say its unlikely that the trusts and estates group would part with the “Cummings & Lockwood” title, a brand name in the group’s line of work. At roughly 280 lawyers, McCarter & English is New Jersey’s largest legal outfit. In recent weeks, sources say, it has become the leading merger candidate for Cummings & Lockwood, after talks with Rochester, N.Y.-based Nixon Peabody stalled. Reached on Wednesday,William H. Narwold, C&L’s former managing partner and a lawyer in its Hartford office, said the negotiations with Peabody were still ongoing. The next day, however, Peabody spokesman William Albert confirmed that the talks are over. Neither Albert nor C&L officials would comment on the specifics of the negotiations. But one source who did not want to be identified said Peabody officials believe Cummings & Lockwood’s cost structure is too high, and that Peabody sought a level of support staff reductions that C&L wouldn’t agree to. Since late last year, Cummings has lost a significant number of key rainmakers in its Stamford office, particularly to Edwards & Angell’s upstart Stamford operation. Perhaps the largest blow came in March when members of the firm’s intellectual property practice, including Barry Kramer, the group’s chairman, left to follow former Cummings & Lockwood corporate partners to the E&A outpost. “The firm is looking at a lot of options to beef itself up,” Eric Watt Wiechmann, head of C&L’s Hartford office and a member of its board of directors, acknowledged after Kramer’s departure. Wiechmann did not return two telephone messages by press time. McCarter & English broke into the Connecticut market in June 2001 through the additions of Catherine A. Mohan from Hartford’s Danaher, Tedford, Lagnese & Neal, and John J. Robinson from Hartford-based Halloran & Sage. McCarter’s Hartford outpost has since added two lawyers and continues to focus mostly on toxic tort litigation and product liability defense work. “Our goal is not to have a three- or four-person office,” said Berry, the firm’s chairman. Known largely for its mass toxic tort, products liability and insurance coverage work, McCarter & English also increasingly has served as legal counsel for leading companies in the pharmaceutical, chemical and medical device industries. “New Jersey may be America’s medicine chest,” Berry said of the concentration of the pharmaceutical and medical device companies there. “But Connecticut is not that far behind,” he said. McCarter has no specific goal for the size of its Hartford office. That would depend on what opportunities present themselves, Berry said.

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