After 111 years, Florida’s Carlton Fields made its first significant foray outside the Southeast on Monday with the announcement that it had opened a Manhattan office with six lawyers from local boutique Rosner & Napierala.
The addition of Rosner & Napierala’s entire legal team, as well as the firm’s two staff members, gives Carlton Fields an instant presence in New York, a city that firm president and CEO Gary Sasso says has been under consideration for his entire six-year run atop the firm’s leadership structure. But Sasso says the decision to hire the six-lawyer group, which is led by new shareholders Brian Rosner and Natalie Napierala, was not solely based on a desire to quickly establish a reputation in the city.
“If this was driven simply by an interest in going into New York and having a New York–specific practice, then critical mass might be more important,” he says. Instead, he says, Carlton Fields envisions the Manhattan location presenting opportunities for expanding on the work the firm’s nearly 300 lawyers handle out of seven offices around Florida and in Atlanta.
The announcement of Carlton Fields’s expansion coincided with the release of the latest quarterly report from legal consultancy Altman Weil, which counted a total of 14 announced law firm mergers between July and September. Altman, which tallies law firm mergers based on the date they receive media attention rather than the date when they take effect, has recorded 39 mergers so far this year, down slightly from the 43 combinations that were announced during the first nine months of 2011.
The largest law firm deal announced during the third quarter, according to Altman, was the July 10 tie-up between 175-attorney personal injury firm Jacoby & Meyers and 125-lawyer Macey Bankruptcy Law in Chicago. Other legal combinations that made the Altman list—and were covered by either The Am Law Daily or its various sibling publications—include Burr & Forman’s acquisition last week of 23-attorney Williams Schifino Mangione & Steady in Tampa; Balch & Bingham’s late September announcement that it plans to combine with six-lawyer Florida firm Stoneburner Berry Glocker Purcell & Greenhut; DLA Piper’s late August confirmation that it wants to expand in Paris through the acquisition of 26-lawyer corporate firm Frieh Bouhenic; and Pepper Hamilton’s August announcement that it is joining forces with former FBI director Louis Freeh’s eight-lawyer law firm, Freeh Sporkin & Sullivan.
Thomas Clay, a longtime principal at Altman, says that while he has noticed interest in potential mergers among law firms return to prerecession levels, firms are moving cautiously when finalizing deals.
“No one wants to make a big deal that will have integration problems,” Clay says. “Some of the high-profile failures, like Dewey [& LeBoeuf] and Howrey, all of those things collectively give people pause.” Clay adds that most of the mergers he sees firms pursuing are focused on bolstering a particular practice expertise—in, for instance, the health care or energy sectors—or expanding into regional markets such as Florida and Texas that are viewed as lucrative.
The name partners at Rosner & Napierala say they had considered combining with a larger firm on and off since the opening of their shop in 2005, but the lawyers at Carlton Fields were the first to seriously pique their interest. The pair first met Sasso in the spring after getting a cold call from a headhunter and realizing, “It’s a firm just like us, only bigger,” Rosner says.
Rosner, a former New York County assistant district attorney who also did a stint as a partner at King & Spalding, says he and Napierala liked that Carlton Fields employs more shareholders than associates, compared to many large law firms that have junior attorney ranks that dwarf their partnerships in size.
“We know how well that strategy works for us,” says Rosner. Of the four other lawyers moving over to Carlton Fields, three, Heather Haase, Elizabeth Luciano, and Ildiko Szollosi, join as senior counsel; and Madelyn Spatt Shulman joins as of counsel. Many of the Rosner & Napierala lawyers, whose practices range from corporate and finance work to securities litigation, have experience working at large firms. All six will continue to work out of Rosner and Napierala’s existing offices in downtown Manhattan.
Until 2007 the firm was known as Rosner Moscow & Napierala, when former name partner John Moscow, a colleague of Rosner’s from the D.A.’s office, left for Baker & Hostetler in New York with two other attorneys.
Asked whether—in light of Dewey & LeBoeuf’s high-profile collapse—he and Napierala had given any extra scrutiny to Carlton Fields’s finances, Rosner says, “It really wasn’t part of our consideration. They’ve been around for a long time. They’re very practical and in many ways a conservative firm.” He also says current clients weren’t told that the combination might happen before it was finalized, but that he and his colleagues have now begun to spread the word.
“We thought it would be swell and fun to practice law with them,” Rosner says. “It was the opportunity we had always been looking for but never seen.”