(L to R): Baker Donelson president and COO Jennifer Keller; Baker Donelson chair and CEO Ben Adams; Ober Kaler chair and CEO S. Craig Holden; and Ober Kaler president and COO Darlene Davis. ()
Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, a full-service Am Law 200 firm headquartered in Memphis, has agreed to merge with Baltimore-based Ober Kaler on Jan. 1, 2017. The two firms, which will form an 800-lawyer shop under the Baker Donelson banner, announced their combination Monday.
S. Craig Holden, CEO of Ober Kaler, said his firm’s corporate clients are looking for legal services outfits with a broad array of expertise to handle their large matters, which is in part why Ober Kaler began looking for a merger partner about two years ago. Ober Kaler has about 110 lawyers in Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
At a firm like Baker Donelson, “greater resources available lend themselves to more sophisticated project management, budget management [and] knowledge management software,” said Holden, who was elected to his leadership role in 2015.
Ober Kaler worked with legal consultancy Altman Weil Inc. to find a merger partner, Holden said. Altman Weil principal Thomas Clay introduced the firms to each other last spring and in June they held a meeting of firm leaders to evaluate how their practices and culture would fit together. Both firms completed a partnership vote Monday.
Baker Donelson and Ober Kaler have large health care practices that they claim will compliment one another. Baker Donelson does mostly transactional work for nonprofit health care clients, while Ober Kaler handles regulatory matters for for-profit clients such as CVS Health Corp. and Quest Diagnostics Inc.
The two firms also represent financial institutions, with Baker Donelson mostly handling litigation, while Ober Kaler does proportionately more lending and leasing work, said Baker Donelson chairman and CEO Ben Adams. He added that both firms also do construction work and that Baker Donelson has wanted to add an international tax capability, something offered by Ober Kaler.
Adams said that Baker Donelson and Ober Kaler also align structurally. Both firms have two tiers of partners—equity and nonequity—and are governed by boards with similar compensation systems, Adams said.
Baker Donelson ranked 99th on The American Lawyer’s Am Law 100 list of the nation’s top grossing firms for 2015, as gross revenue rose 4.4 percent, to $332.5 million. Adams said that with the addition of Ober Kaler, the combined firm’s gross revenue should grow to just over $400 million.
Geographically, Ober Kaler gives Baker Donelson, a 652-lawyer firm predominantly based in the southeastern U.S., a greater presence in the northeast. Both firms have offices in Washington, D.C., but will not immediately move their lawyers in the nation’s capital into the same office space, the firm leaders said.
“For a merger this big, I would say it was relatively easy,” Adams said, noting that both partnerships “overwhelming supported it.”