Norton Rose Fulbright
Norton Rose Fulbright (Ivan Maslarov)

Global giant Norton Rose Fulbright and Manhattan-based Chadbourne & Parke finalized their merger Friday, ending Chadbourne’s 115-year run as an independent firm.

The combined firm, which will shed the Chadbourne name and operate internationally as Norton Rose Fulbright, has about 4,000 lawyers in 59 offices and 33 countries, generating up to $2 billion in annual revenues.

The combined firm has more than 1,000 lawyers in the U.S., the firms said when they announced their merger plans in February. With about 300 lawyers in New York alone, post-merger Norton Rose Fulbright will rank among Manhattan’s 25 largest law offices, and it will also have more than 130 lawyers in Washington, D.C.

While there were rumors that client conflicts would delay the merger, the firms announced the closing on the last day in the second quarter of the year—within the original timeline announced for the deal.

The combination creates a firm with particular strengths in global energy sector deals, project finance, infrastructure and disputes.

“Bringing together Norton Rose Fulbright and Chadbourne will enable Norton Rose Fulbright to provide even greater breadth and depth of services to our clients,” Peter Martyr, Norton Rose Fulbright’s global chief executive, said in a statement. “We now offer enhanced capabilities in New York and Washington, DC, while our global platform expands to Mexico City, São Paulo and Istanbul.” 

Andrew Giaccia, the combined firm’s U.S. management committee vice chairman and Chadbourne’s former leader, said in a statement: “Our lawyers’ shared commitment to client service – along with our strong compatibilities in the areas of energy and infrastructure, banking, corporate and finance, project finance, bankruptcy and restructuring, litigation and regulatory law – makes this a powerful combination.”

The merger hasn’t been welcomed by all. In the more than four months since the merger discussions were confirmed, nearly 50 lawyers have left Chadbourne, including 18 partners and a team that went to Covington & Burling. About 273 lawyers have exited Norton Rose Fulbright firmwide, according to ALM’s RivalEdge, which tracks attorney moves. Normal attrition likely accounts for a portion of the departures at both firms.

The firms’ complementary practices in energy, project finance and infrastructure could be a boon as the legal industry struggles with flat demand. Both firms’ gross revenues have fallen each of the last three years, according to American Lawyer financial reporting. 

Chadbourne’s revenue dropped by 6.6 percent to $232.5 million last year. Amid a string of lateral exits and a (still ongoing) high-profile discrimination suit against the firm, lawyer head count dropped by 9.4 percent to 288 in 2016, while profits per partner grew 2.6 percent to $1.165 million.

Norton Rose Fulbright posted global revenue of $1.685 billion in 2016, down about 3 percent from the prior year.

A Fading New York Firm

Chadbourne becomes the latest storied New York firm to lose its name in a merger with a larger competitor, echoing the combination between Rogers & Wells and Clifford Chance.

In 1997 Chadbourne peaked at No. 41 on the Am Law 100 rankings of the nation’s highest-grossing firms. Back then it was best known for its representation of British American Tobacco in product liability litigation. 

The firm, founded in 1902 in New York City by premiere dealmaker Thomas Chadbourne, represented the Wright Brothers, James Joyce, Winston Churchill and Howard Hughes.

In one its best-known cases, Chadbourne represented Brown & Williamson in its standoff with whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand, a fight made famous in the 1999 film “The Insider.” It advised on the merger between the American Football League and National Football League in the 1960s, and represented John Edwards in his campaign finance trial in 2012.

By 2006, when the heyday of tobacco litigation was passing, Chadbourne had slipped to near the bottom of the Am Law 100. But as The American Lawyer reported then, the firm’s glacial speed in reacting to its declining status in the marketplace was another factor in its diminishing size. In 2013, Chadbourne & Parke fell off the Am Law 100 and onto the Second Hundred.

In linking up with Norton Rose Fulbright, Chadbourne attorneys will now have a platform within the top 20 of the Global 100 firms.

Norton Rose Fulbright, the product of a 2013 mega-merger between Houston-based Fulbright & Jaworski and London-based Norton Rose, has integration plans beyond Chadbourne. Since the February merger announcement with Chadbourne, the Swiss verein announced plans to unite with Australia’s Henry Davis York.

In New York, Chadbourne and Norton Rose Fulbright will have to knock down walls to work with each other. The firms happen to share the same office building at 1301 Sixth Ave., where Chadbourne signed a 20-year lease in 2012.