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The route between Chicago and New York is well-trod territory for many Big Law firms, with firms from one metropolis finding a way into the other for decades. Wednesday saw two more deals join that list.
Freeborn & Peters, a 140-lawyer firm based in Chicago, announced its first New York office with the addition of five-lawyer Hargraves, McConnell & Costigan. And Kaufman Dolowich & Voluck, a New York-based firm with 129 lawyers across the country, bolstered its Windy City presence by acquiring 15-lawyer boutique Baugh Dalton.
Both deals were driven, the firms said, by shared clients.
In the case of Freeborn & Peters, a client in the insurance industry that worked with both Joseph McCullough IV, leader of the firm’s insurance and reinsurance practice, and Hargraves, McConnell & Costigan founder Daniel Hargraves, suggested the firms combine. In the niche area of reinsurance litigation, the combination will build a strong practice of 20 lawyers between the firms, said Freeborn & Peters managing partner Michael Moynihan.
After that suggestion, the two firms had some “what-if” conversations before beginning to talk in earnest about a combination about six months ago, Moynihan said.
For Freeborn & Peters, New York is the second office the firm has opened following a suggestion of a client. Last year, the firm merged with Richmond, Virginia-based Brenner, Evans & Millman on the advice of a shared client.
“They say that’s the best way to do it, and I believe it,” said Moynihan. “We weren’t trying to get somewhere geographically, we were trying in both cases to grow a practice. And it’s much easier to do that with known commodities. So to have your client recommend someone to you, from a recruiting perspective, is very valuable.”
For Kaufman Dolowich, the Chicago deal will quadruple its Midwest presence to 20 lawyers. The deal, the largest in Kaufman Dolowich’s history, includes eight partners, four associates and three of counsel.
The combination grew out of a relationship between Kaufman Dolowich co-managing partner Ivan Dolowich and David Baugh, a founder of Baugh Dalton, Dolowich said. The pair had shared clients, and more formal tie-up talks started about six months ago.
Baugh is well-known for his representation of securities broker dealers disputes and arbitrations involving the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, which Kaufman Dolowich said will bolster its growing practice in that area. Baugh’s firm also focuses on insurance litigation.
“We think the combination with Baugh Dalton strengthens us in all our practice areas, in particular FINRA, where we have a lot more depth,” Dolowich said.
For Chicago, the merger is a reminder that the city remains an attractive geography for out-of-town firms. In 2015, Chicago was the No. 1 destination for large firms to pick up midsize competitors, according to legal consultancy Altman Weil Inc. That year saw Nixon Peabody acquire Ungaretti & Harris; Cozen O’Connor merge with Meckler Bulger Tilson Marick & Pearson; Shook, Hardy & Bacon absorb Grippo & Elden; and Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn bolt on boutique Schopf & Weiss.
Freeborn & Peters’ Moynihan, who said his firm’s plan is to stay independent and pursue offices in other cities where clients have needs, does not require a reminder of the broader legal industry’s interest in acquiring midsize firms.
“We get calls all the time, and as recently as this week,” Moynihan said. “So yeah, that has pretty much continued unabated.”
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