Beautiful view of Indianapolis skyline and the White River at sunset
Beautiful view of Indianapolis skyline and the White River at sunset (alexeys)

Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky and Ohio. Believe it or not, those are some of the hottest states for law firm mergers this year. And the trend continued this week when two firms expanded in the Hoosier State.

The U.S. heartland may not be the first option on the wish list for some large firms, but the market for legal services in the Midwest is being rearranged by a series of combinations, mergers and acquisitions.

Of the 50 mergers tallied so far this year by legal consultancy Altman Weil Inc.’s MergerLine, 11 of the firms being scooped up have been based in Midwest states. By comparison, the Middle Atlantic region—New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and neighboring states that typically see more merger activity than the Midway—have seen 12 firms acquired in 2017.

The latest Midwest combinations involve a seven-lawyer group of health care litigators branching off of Indianapolis-based health care boutique Hall, Render, Killian, Heath & Lyman, and a Louisville-based firm acquiring a 10-lawyer shop in Indiana.

The lawyers leaving Hall Render were led by Norris Cunningham, head of the firm’s health care litigation group, and joined what was Katz & Korin. The previously 13-lawyer firm will be renamed Katz Korin Cunningham and expects to double its gross revenue through the bulk acquisition.

In another move this week, Kentucky’s Stoll Keenon Ogden moved to absorb Evansville, Indiana-based Bamberger, Foreman, Oswald & Hahn, which will bring the acquirer’s head count to 144 lawyers. Stoll Keenon, celebrating its 120th anniversary this year, has offices in Evansville; Indianapolis; Louisville, Lexington and Frankfort, Kentucky; and Pittsburgh.

Eric Seeger, a principal at Altman Weil, said it is unlikely that small law firms in Indiana or the Midwest are any more susceptible to mergers than firms in other regions. But he said that mergers can have a follow-on effect in some instances.

“Especially when you get two or more firms merging, it causes [other] firms to look around and think, ‘Firms like us are deciding they can’t be successful or they have more opportunities joining a larger platform, maybe that makes sense for us too,’” Seeger said.

Katz Korin Cunningham managing partner Michael Grabovitch said his firm first had the opportunity to discuss joining forces with the health care litigation practice of Hall Render’s Cunningham because of a friendship between two partners at the firms dating back to law school.

Grabovitch said the group of health care litigators seemed like a natural fit for his firm, which handles business litigation.

In an interview with the Indianapolis Business Journal, Cunningham, now a name partner at Katz Korin Cunningham, said his new firm’s relatively young age would be attractive to lawyers as it plans to grow to about 40 lawyers by 2020.

“The majority of our attorneys have 30 to 35 years left in their careers,” Cunningham told the newspaper. “We think we’ll be attractive to attorneys in that same position because we’re ready to really grow and expand in a way maybe you couldn’t with another firm.”

Meanwhile, Stoll Keenon’s managing partner P. Douglas Barr said his firm was looking to expand its geographic reach by adding Indiana’s Bamberger Foreman.

“By joining with Bamberger, SKO will more than double our number of lawyers licensed to practice law in Indiana, broaden and diversify our Indiana practice with expanded legal capabilities, deepen our bench strength in Evansville and add a long-established office in Indianapolis,” Barr said in a statement.

The moves wrap up a busy June for mergers in the Midwest. Of the nine recorded mergers or acquisitions by MergerLine, four involved firms from the region being acquired.

Those included Lewis Rice’s subsidiary firm, TuckerAllen, last week snapping up a group of estate planning lawyers in St. Louis. Cleveland’s Nicola Gudbranson & Cooper bolted on Rosner, Ortman & Moss, a two-lawyer local immigration boutique, to hit the 26-lawyer mark. And 58-lawyer Hewson & Van Hellemont picked up eight lawyers from Raftery Janeczrk & Hoelscher. Both firms are based in the Detroit suburbs.