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The North Carolina legal market has had its troubles of late with a few firms seeing layoffs due to the area’s focus on financial institutions. But that hasn’t kept everyone away.

K&L Gates seems to see potential in the market. The firm announced it has been in merger talks with Charlotte-based Kennedy Covington Lobdell & Hickman since the end of 2007.

Kennedy Covington is a general service firm with more than 175 attorneys and five offices across the Carolinas. It touts its strong real estate and financial services practices. A merger would give K&L Gates approximately 1,700 lawyers with 28 offices, according to a statement released by both firms.

“Charlotte is the second largest financial center in the United States,” K&L Gates Chairman and global managing partner Peter J. Kalis and Kennedy Covington managing partner Eugene C. Pridgen said in a joint statement. “Both K&L Gates and Kennedy Covington have strong orientations toward servicing clients from the financial services industry.

“Both firms feature strong practices that would service the extraordinary growth in the corporate and life science sectors in the Raleigh and Research Triangle Park area of North Carolina,” the two said in the statement. “The Carolinas thus boast a substantial and diverse business community that includes but also extends well beyond the financial services sector to include real estate, biotechnology, healthcare, software, telecommunications, manufacturing, transportation and other industry sectors.”

Pridgen said in the statement that Charlotte and Research Triangle Park are becoming dominant business centers in the national and global economies.

If talks continue on their current path, the firms said, formal proposals could be presented to the respective partnerships in the summer. K&L Gates issued a similar statement during its merger discussion with Dallas-based Hughes & Luce last year. That merger was effective Jan. 1.

K&L Gates moved dramatically up the AmLaw 100 chart this year thanks to a January 2007 merger with Seattle-based Preston Gates & Ellis, according to recently released data by The American Lawyer. It is now 28th on the list.

The firm’s gross revenue hit $755 million, its revenue per lawyer reached $610,000 and its profits per equity partner hit the $800,000 mark. K&L Gates closed out 2007 with 1,235 full-time equivalent lawyers, including 243 equity partners.

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