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In one of the largest mergers ever between U.S. law firms, Washington’s Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering and Boston’s Hale and Dorr have agreed to combine into a single firm of more than 1,000 lawyers. The merger will join two prominent names. Wilmer Cutler in particular has become well known in the last few years for its securities litigation and enforcement practice, which conducted internal investigations at both Enron Corp. and WorldCom Inc. Hale and Dorr has long been regarded as one of the nation’s premier firms in the intellectual property arena. But the two firms’ combination comes at a time when the problems associated with large firm mergers have been more evident than the benefits. The partner defections and practice disruptions that have affected other high-profile mergers had appeared to cool enthusiasm for such transactions in recent months. The combined firm, effective May 31, will be known as Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr. Hale and Dorr Chairman William F. Lee and Wilmer Cutler Chairman William J. Perlstein will serve as co-managing partners. The two men Monday hailed the combination as a true “merger of equals” in which both firms would bring complementary practice strengths to the new entity. Both firms are considered leaders in their home markets and in their major areas of practice. Perlstein said in an interview that the firms would remain committed to their practice strengths, and the merger “will not cause any lessening of that commitment.” “It will allow both firms to broaden their practice which neither firm could have done alone,” he said, noting that many Wilmer Cutler clients have expressed a need for IP expertise and many Hale and Dorr clients have required antitrust and other regulatory counsel. Lee agreed and pointed out that much of his firm’s practice was now outside of New England, including 70 percent of its litigation work. He said the firms first began discussions in New York last July after they worked together on a case in San Diego. Though both have handled far-flung matters, their individual practice strengths reflect their home markets. Hale and Dorr’s intellectual property strength and the technology focus of its transactional practices reflects the Boston area’s eminence as a center for scientific research. Wilmer Cutler’s securities practice reflects the regulatory bent typical of major Washington-based firms. Lee and Perlstein said neither firm felt any competitive pressure to merge. Indeed, Perlstein said many in the Washington legal community were expressing surprise that Wilmer Cutler would participate in a merger, given its high profile. Aside from the securities group headed by former Securities and Exchange Commission enforcement chief William McLucas, Wilmer Cutler also counts former White House Counsel Lloyd Cutler and former deputy attorney general and current 9/11 Commission member Jamie Gorelick, among others. Perlstein said Wilmer Cutler’s success in recent years had given the firm the “sense of confidence and momentum” necessary to participate in such a large merger. NEW YORK PRESENCE The merger does not give the combined firm a significant New York-based transactional practice, the desire for which has been the impetus for many recent moves by Boston and Washington firms. A year ago, Hale and Dorr’s Boston rival Ropes & Gray acquired New York private equity boutique Reboul, MacMurray, Hewitt & Maynard. Washington’s Covington & Burling and Hogan & Hartson have made major acquisitions of smaller firms in the New York market in recent years. Lee and Perlstein said the new firm, whose New York office will count about 90 lawyers, will devote significant resources and attention to expanding the New York office. Perlstein said the firms’ practice mix in IP, litigation and regulatory work would form a “strong foundation to build” a stand-alone New York corporate practice. Hale and Dorr has about 500 lawyers, with more than 300 in Boston and nearby Waltham, Mass. The firm has smaller offices in New York, Princeton, N.J., Washington and Reston, Va. The firm also inherited three European offices initially founded in a joint venture with now-defunct Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison. Wilmer Cutler will bring about 560 lawyers to the combined firm. The vast majority work in the D.C. headquarters, but the firm has offices in New York, Baltimore, London, Brussels, Berlin and Beijing. According to the most recent American Lawyer Am Law 100 survey, Hale and Dorr had profits per partner of $810,000 in 2002; Wilmer Cutler, $760,000. The merger may mark the end of a lull in firm merger activity that set in over the past two years. Though large firms have continued to acquire smaller boutiques and practice groups, combinations between larger firms have fallen off since the beginning of the decade. CLIFFORD CHANCE’S EXPERIENCE There has been apprehension in the legal community about such mergers owing to the continuing fallout of recent blockbuster combinations. In particular, the string of high-profile departures from Clifford Chance, which merged with New York’s Rogers & Wells at the beginning of 2000, has pointed out that law firm growth is not without problems. Starting with the defection of antitrust group co-head Kevin J. Arquit, one of Clifford Chance’s highest-paid partners, to New York’s Simpson Thacher & Bartlett in December 2002, Clifford Chance’s U.S. offices have seen the departure of more than 20 partners, including Arquit’s co-head, Steven Newborn, and several other practice leaders. Partner departures or disputes also have affected other firms that have participated in large mergers, including Winston & Strawn, which acquired New York’s Whitman Breed Abbott & Morgan in 2000, and Pillsbury Winthrop, the result of the 2001 combination between San Francisco’s Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro and New York’s Winthrop, Stimson, Putnam & Roberts. Lee of Hale and Dorr said the 10 months of discussion had been designed to give both firms’ partners a high level of comfort with one another. He said more than 100 partners at the two firms had met each other. “Coming into these things, you have to be aware of the challenges,” he said. Lee said the firms have similar cultures. He said both firms’ partnerships had voted unanimously for the merger. Perlstein said that the firms had found few conflicts of interests and no lawyers would be leaving ahead of the merger. But he agreed there may be challenges ahead. “We all recognize the work is just beginning,” he said. “It will take a concerted effort. People will have to have a reservoir of good will.”

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